Social Education 58(4), 1994, pp. 219-225
National Council for the Social Studies

The Middle East as a Circumterral Region

By Richard W. Fox and Saul B. Cohen
The defeat of Iraq in the Persian Gulf War, the reemergence of Iran potentially as a dominating regional power, the spread of Islamic fundamentalism, and the Arab-Israeli negotiations invite a reappraisal of the geopolitical position of the Middle East. The allied "triumph without victory" and the political vacuum unfolding north of the region in the Muslim states of the former Soviet Union have transformed long-held assumptions into uncertainties and raised new concerns. Will the end of competition in the region between the United States and the former Soviet Union and current Russian-American cooperation there lead to greater or less restraint among the region's several important states? Did the Gulf War reconfigure regional power relationships and create conditions conducive to building a more stable regional equilibrium? What will be the respective roles of outside powers such as the United States, the European Community, Russia, and the indigenous regional powers? Will Shiite Iran win the competition with Turkey for influence in the newly created Sunni Muslim and ethnically Turkish states of Central Asia to forge a powerful continental block capable of dominating the Middle East, as M.J. Akbar argued in the New York Times of January 10, 1992? Or will the region continue in the future to tilt toward the maritime realm of the developed world in the aftermath of the Gulf War? Or will the creation of the Economic Cooperative Organization (Turkey, Iran, Pakistan, and the six former Soviet Muslim republics) become the basis for an Islamic bloc or remain one more nominal regional trade pact? A geopolitical analysis of the Middle East offers some clues to the future.

Circumterral vs. Circumthalassic
The region is best viewed as circumterral, i.e., rimmed by interpenetrating inland seas and waterways along whose coasts population, commerce, and communication concentrate. Circumterral is the obverse of circumthalassic, a term used to describe how the lands surrounding the Mediterranean Sea are tied together in a geographical unity of culturally diverse states based on their proximity to a central water highway (see Figure 1). The circumthalassic idea describes a single, interior sea surrounded by a power core or cores located on the adjoining land. The Roman Empire can best be described as circumthalassic, as was Mussolini's dream of mare nostrum. The circumterral concept inverts this relationship to describe the Middle East as depicted in Figures 2 and 3. We make only one additional assumption: that the several interpenetrating seas of the region constitute one sea, in the same way that Mahan viewed the world as having a single interconnected ocean (Mahan 1890, 1957, 22).

Thus in the Mediterranean, land points surround the sea, whereas in the Middle East, interconnecting seas and their land points envelope the land. Instead of the sea forming the center, the sea highway and its ports that rim the region's land parts serve as the unifying outer ring. The map further reveals that the concentric ring of seaports at the interface of land and sea form the regional core. This ring of seaports provides the avenue for dynamic interaction along the connecting sea highway among the small coastal states and the larger, more isolated land units with their interior capitals.

In the circumthalassic setting, because of the physical proximity of the land points, it is possible for one power to gain dominance by overwhelming the other points by cutting off their connections with one another through control of the interior sea lanes. Even if Rome was the only power to unify the Mediterranean in its entirety, the Greeks, Carthaginians, Arab or Moors, French, and Italians did gain control of large parts of the sea as they sought to dominate the entire region.

In the circumterral setting, single power dominance of the seas is made more difficult by the weight of the land masses that project into the seas. Thus, historically, the rivalry between the Nilotic and Mesopotamian, the Levantine Roman/Byzantine and Persian, and the modern British and French empires was so evenly balanced that one power could not dominate the entire region. Even the Ottomans did not hold effective sway over Egypt and Arabia because of the geographical disadvantage of their inland Anatolian base.

Despite these intrusive land masses, the many opportunities for exchange along the sea highway rim and the ocean beyond promote unity among the Middle East's separate power cores. What Ellen Churchill Semple said about the Mediterranean also applies to the Middle East:

The Mediterranean is a great gulf of the Atlantic cutting back into the land mass of the Eastern Hemisphere. . . . This is the mare internum, enclosed by three continents which it helps to divide. . . . It gives Asia an Atlantic seaboard. . . . The line of the Aegean, Marmara, Black Sea, and Azov divides Asia and Europe in a physical sense, but unites them in a historical sense. (Semple 1931, 4-5)
Not only does the Middle East have an Atlantic coast via the Mediterranean but, as Semple pointed out, its Red Sea, Persian Gulf, and Arabian Sea are part of a global belt of seas that include the Indian Ocean and the Caribbean, thereby facilitating contact between Europe and Asia in particular and the maritime world in general (Semple 1931, 1971, 13-14). The Middle East thus sits astride the world's most vital water crossroads and has served historically as a major cultural hearth. The geography of the Middle East also sets the stage for political conflict, described by Derwent Whittlesey as an "unending struggle for control of this crossroads of landpower and seapower where dry, barren Africa and West Asia are slit by a wet scratch linking the humid, productive Orient with Europe" (1959, 268).

Vital Role of Water Transportation
Traditional geographic descriptions of the Middle East fail to take into account the vital role played by water. To describe the region merely as possessing interpenetrating seas (Cressey 1960, 23) ignores the dynamics of the sea highway and the pressures for interaction among land points. In the traditional landpower point of view, the Middle East's power cores are states with their backs to the sea that are connected by land routes. These land routes through deserts, however, because of difficulty in traversing them, offer little proximity, and the great distances over the land bridges strengthen the remoteness of the land points from one another. The landpower cores do not face each other but instead front the sea highway that helps connect them, often in circuitous fashion. Egypt and Israel, for example, not only alternately share or divide a contiguous Mediterranean coast, but they also are connected by outlets on the Red Sea-Suez-Aqaba waterway. The sea highway crescent from Suez to the Persian Gulf-Arabian Sea is shared further with Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Yemen, Oman, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Bahrain, Kuwait, Iraq, and Iran. The Eastern Mediterranean is shared by Turkey, Cyprus, Syria, Lebanon, and Israel. Therefore, while the landpower view leaves the Middle East essentially landlocked, the seapower view stresses the opportunities for dynamic spatial interaction.

It is important to distinguish this circumterral view of the Middle East from a simple center-periphery concept. In the former, the enveloping sea offers the prime medium of communication between relatively equal power centers; in the latter, the center is described as dominating outlying areas.

This physical and human geographical configuration has important implications for the interests of the region's major players and their economic and political connections with the outside world. Although the Middle East remains a region with six enmeshed power centers (Egypt, Iraq, Iran, Israel, Syria, and Turkey) competing in a highly volatile environment, the circumterral nature of the region accentuates the multipower nature of these power relationships. The sea highway strengthens centrifugal forces among the six by encouraging links to the outside maritime world. It also reinforces the incipient and countervailing centripetal forces that will contribute to stronger regional ties. These contradictory forces are intertwined, operate simultaneously, and, depending on the historical period, may be imbalanced with one directional force having greater weight than the other. In the aftermath of the Persian Gulf War, we may be entering an era when the centripetal forces are in ascendance in the Middle East. The external powers are less competitive with one another, enabling the United States to take the lead in encouraging a dynamic equilibrium among the region's several power cores that emerges in part from their proximity over the sea highway.

The circumterral conception builds upon traditional geographic descriptions of the Middle East. These correctly described the region as a world "crossroads" at the juncture of three continents and as the "land of the six seas" (the Mediterranean, Aegean, Black, Caspian, Red, and Arabian seas) with several vital connecting gulfs and straits. As Beaumont et al. (1988, 7) have pointed out, it is possible to conceive of the entire Middle East as composed of four great isthmuses lying between the arms of the ocean and the inland Caspian Sea. The most famous is the Isthmus of Suez now cut by the Suez Canal. Other land bridges include the Syrian Desert connecting the Mediterranean and the Arab/Persian Gulf via the Syrian Saddle, the Euphrates Valley, and the Shatt al Arab; the mountains of Armenia and Azerbaijan standing between the Black Sea port of Trabzon and the Iranian and Azerbaijani ports on the Caspian Sea; and the Iranian Plateau separating the Caspian and Arabian seas.

Our view of the Middle East is further enhanced by focusing on the waterways, either independent of or in conjunction with the land bridges. The circumterral concept describes a region surrounded by water and concentrated around inland seas and river valleys that, with the exceptions of the "King's Highway" land route from the Nile to Damascus via Palestine and the Syrian Saddle route from the Gulf of Iskenderun to Mesopotamia, serve as major avenues of movement and settlement.1 As disjointed as several of these maritime waterways may be, they can provide greater unity to the region's scattered cores and isolated population clusters than any other physical feature. Arabia has little relevance as a center of the land region, and none of the other major regional capitals, save Cairo, is easily accessible from all major subregions (i.e., Ankara, Tehran, Baghdad, Damascus, Amman, Jerusalem, and Khartoum). Rather the interpenetrating seas perform this centering function.

This circumterral nature of the region operates as a permanent locational quality with important implications. Each of the several cores has internal contacts to the region and external contacts to the world that result from the highly complex geography of interrupted seas and short land bridges. If the Middle East were clustered around a single sea, all powers would compete intensely in a closed environment creating flux and disequilibrium, or conversely a rigid dominance-subordination system. In addition to having both an internal and external reach, each regional power has its own unique orientation. Turkey's location on the Aegean and Black seas, for example, encourages a European perspective and a secondary concern for Mesopotamia and the Caucasus; Israel, Egypt, and Lebanon share a common Mediterranean setting; Iran's maritime orientation, on the other hand, faces south via the Arabian Sea toward either the Indian Ocean or the Red Sea and Suez Canal, whereas in the north Iran's secondary interests lie landward into Central Asia and not over the Caspian into Russia and Kazakhstan.2 Thus the levels of interaction at the local level are highly complex and serve to reinforce the existing multipolarity in the region's political relationships.

This maritime orientation further implies a sharper definition of the Middle East as a region. It is composed only of states that have an outlet on one of the six interpenetrating seas that form the outer or circumferential physical regional core and, in addition, have proximate access to a second sea either directly or through a neighbor. Pure Mediterranean states in southern Europe and the Maghreb (northwesternmost Africa-Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia) as well as continental Afghanistan are thereby excluded. Technically Greece and possibly Pakistan fit the definition if only their physical location is taken into account, but they clearly belong to other realms. Sudan and Djibouti are included because of the close traditional ties between the two coasts of the Red Sea; once conditions are stabilized in Ethiopia, an independent Eritrea must be added to the region. It is within this relatively compact maritime region that we find most of the major sources and transportation networks of the region's primary industry, petroleum.

The eighteen states of the Middle East thus defined, stretching from Turkey, Cyprus, and Egypt in the west to Iran in the east and the Arabian Peninsula in the south, contain 10,825,890 square kilometers (4,179,764 square miles), approximately the same size as the United States or China (UN 1992a, 65-68). The sea penetrates deeply in the region: four states (Egypt, Israel, Saudi Arabia, and Iran) face two seas, and Turkey fronts on three. Several narrow gulfs and strategic straits connect vital waterways and core subregions. The Strait of Hormuz links the Arab/Persian Gulf and the Arab-Iranian oil basin with the Gulf of Oman and the Arabian Sea; Bab el Mandeb is the gateway from the Gulf of Aden through the Red Sea to Suez; the Suez Canal in turn carries maritime traffic from the Mediterranean to the Red Sea and Indian Ocean; the Gulf of Aqaba offers Israel, Jordan (as well as Iraq via Jordan), and Egypt's eastern Sinai an outlet to the Red Sea; the Turkish Straits tie the Black Sea to the Aegean; and the Volga-Don Canal provides another human-made waterway across the Caucasian isthmus into the Sea of Azov, thus linking the Black and Caspian seas. Moreover, the basins of the Nile and Tigris-Euphrates form riverine arteries that determine the location of settlement and the structure of communications in Egypt and Iraq.

Physical Factors and the Maritime Perspective
A variety of other factors support this maritime perspective. All eighteen states have at least one significant seaport. Only Iraq has significant constraints on an outlet to one of the region's interpenetrating seas, since its main harbor at Basra is limited by an inland location. Iraq's specialized port at Umm Qasr is hemmed in by Kuwaiti-owned Bubiyan and Warbah islands and has been cut, in part, by the new United Nations-imposed boundary with Kuwait. Moreover, most of the region's land routes are short and often converge on ports that terminate at the head of narrow gulfs (Beaumont et al. 1988, 323). A solid chain of mountains across the northern tier of Turkey and Iran and the eastern border of Iran limit the land routes. Although the coastal highlands of Syria, Lebanon, and Israel present less formidable obstacles, the eastern Mediterranean coast invites contact with Europe and the Red and Arabian seas, for centuries the transit route for a thriving slave trade, offering opportunities for commerce with Africa and Asia.

Deserts abound in the region's large interior expanses and serve to isolate the multiple power centers on the continental periphery along the coasts and inland waterways. These include the Libyan, Arabian, and Nubian deserts in Egypt and Sudan; the Syrian, Negev, and Sinai deserts south of the fertile crescent; the Nafud and Ar Rub' al Khali in Saudi Arabia; and the Dasht-e Kavir and Dasht-e-Lut in Iran.

Middle East and European Maritime Orientations
Indicative of the maritime orientation of the Middle East is its extensive coastline measured in both absolute and relative terms. The Mediterranean, Black, and Red seas form a 5,472 kilometer (3,400 mile) coastline from Trabzon to Aden alone. Excluding irregularities, the entire coastline of Southwest Asia from Turkey to Iran stretches 12,876 kilometers (8,000 miles), thus providing a ratio of one kilometer of coast for every 483 square kilometers of land (Drysdale and Blake 1985, 111). Adding Cyprus and Egypt (but not Sudan with its nearly 2.6 million square kilometers of land [967,500 square miles] and only 718 kilometers of coast), the ratio drops to one kilometer (about 3/5 of a mile) of coast for every 418 square kilometers (161 square miles) of area. Including Sudan, the ratio is still only one kilometer of coast for every 547 square kilometers (211 square miles). Continental realms have much higher ratios. China, for example, has one kilometer of coastline for every 1,479 square kilometers (571 square miles) of land. The ratio for the Middle East compares favorably with some of the world's maritime regions; there is one kilometer of coast for every 172 square kilometers (66.4 square miles) of Europe and for every 470 square kilometers (181 square miles) of the United States. To be sure, these coast-to-land ratios say nothing about the quality of seaports, accessibility to them, and the paucity of good natural harbors along extensive parts of the coast. However, the universal presence of warm water and the ease of constructing artificial ports along the emerged shoreline emphasize the region's maritime quality. The very high percentage of population concentrated along the coasts and waterways further reflects the importance of the coastline.

A comparison with Europe, a maritime region par excellence and another multipolar geopolitical region, also supports a view of the Middle East as a region with a uniquely circumterral core. The Middle East's position at the crossroads of three continents across the vital sea lanes between Europe and Asia corresponds to Europe's unique position of the western extremity of the Eurasian land mass. Since "water interdigitates with the land as it does nowhere else," Europe's maritime configuration offers maximum opportunity for global contact over the ocean highway (de Blij and Muller 1992, 63). Much of southern and western Europe is composed of peninsulas and islands, ensuring the circulation of trade and ideas.

This pattern is partially true of the Middle East as well, especially if we add the several isthmuses to the peninsulas and islands. The seas, gulfs, and straits in both regions are generally narrow, whereas offshore waters are rarely the endless expanses found off the shores of East and South Asia or the Americas. This proximity to land and sea invites maritime trade and exploration since the coasts beyond the waterways are either visible or known. During the Gulf War, the unified allied sea and air fleet, operating on the sea highway from the Eastern Mediterranean, the Red Sea, the Arabian Sea, and the Gulf itself, and augmented by land-based aircraft from Turkey as well as more distant NATO bases, penetrated Iraqi airspace from four bodies of water via three cardinal points of the compass.

The circumterral nature of the Middle East thus creates a complementary balance of forces that reinforces both internal regional unity and the external maritime orientation to the outside world. The interpenetrating seas provide a set of openings, not a seal, and Middle Eastern states can usually communicate by both land and sea. This feature, when combined with the traditional settlement pattern of several nodes of power and population centers separated by large empty spaces, strengthens multipolarity. All regional powers, including Turkey, have military and economic interests in their neighbors, adding to the complexity of building a regional balance of power.

Locally, these competing interests can create flashpoints, but since geopolitical equilibrium is dynamic rather than static, these local conflicts can also contribute certain safety values for the regional system as a whole. Israel and Syria, for example, at loggerheads over Lebanon and the Golan, did act with restraint in Persian/Arab Gulf conflicts. Iraq could not intervene in Kuwait without challenging the interests of other regional powers such as Iran and Egypt in the Persian/Arab Gulf-Red Sea transitway. Turkey looks across its narrow seas to Europe for trade and emigration and, together with Syria and Iraq, has vital interests in the Euphrates. Egypt concentrates on the region east of the Gulf of Suez and the Red Sea and north on the Nile instead of continental Africa. The world maritime powers, the United States, the European Community, and Japan, have a vital stake in the Persian/Arab Gulf. These relationships reflect the growing unity of the region as a whole.

This interaction between the interpenetrating seas and the multipolar cores produces a maritime orientation in the Middle East as seen in the distribution and movement of people and goods throughout the region. A defining characteristic of the region's demography is the remarkable variation in population densities. The large semi-arid interiors are scarcely inhabited, while the bulk of the population clusters along either the coasts and adjoining mountain ranges or the large river valleys that penetrate the interior. The Middle East is among the least densely populated regions of the world with 27 persons per square kilometer (70 persons per square mile) in 1989 (United Nations 1992a, 65-68). Yet the Nile Delta has a population density of over 1,000 people per square kilometer (2590 people per square mile) (de Blij and Muller 1992, 363); parts of the Delta average 2,000 per square kilometer (5,180 people per square mile) (Cambridge Atlas 1987).

Transportation Networks
The nature of the economy is also clearly maritime. Petroleum exports, which constitute 70 percent of the Asian Middle East's exports, are shipped via the region's interpenetrating seas (United Nations 1992a, 875). The Middle East is thus trade-dependent with regional pipeline networks, marine terminals, and oil tanker routes corresponding to the exploitive railroads of a nineteenth-century colony supporting this overseas trade. In addition, extra-regional trade normally represents approximately 90 percent of all imports and exports in value. Jordan and Turkey have the highest intra-regional trade, more than 40 percent of all trade. Intra-regional trade is also significant (approaching 15-20 percent) for such Gulf oil states as Kuwait, Oman, and when allowed, Iraq. Still, all states trade much more with the outside world than within the region. Moreover, intra-regional trade figures for oil countries often include petroleum transshipped through the region (by Iraq, for example, when it was able to make its shipments, though pipelines in Turkey) for destinations in Europe and the maritime world.

The current relationship of the region with the developed maritime world is also one of mutual dependence. In 1989, the Group of Seven developed countries (the United States, Canada, Japan, Germany, France, Italy, and Britain) consumed 32.7 of the 63.5 million barrels of daily world oil production (Standard and Poor's 1990, 17). The Middle East currently supplies 40 percent of world oil production (Standard and Poor's 1992, 20). In 1990, the United States imported $64 billion in crude and refined petroleum, with approximately 25 percent of the total coming from Saudi Arabia alone (United Nations 1992b, 950).

The maritime oil transportation network has furthered the development of intra-regional forces that strengthen regional bonds. Although largely closed as a result of current political tensions, an extensive network of oil pipelines exists that was built to short-circuit long maritime routes or avoid narrow gulfs and straits threatened by a hostile power (Cohen 1992, 6-7). This network provides a motive for cooperation between Iraq and Saudi Arabia, Syria, and Turkey; between Saudi Arabia and Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, Egypt, and Israel; and between Iran and both Turkey and the Islamic republics of the former Soviet Union and Russia.

The pipelines reinforce the rest of the transportation system, including the extensive rail network built with the help of colonial powers that links Cairo, Damascus, Baghdad, and Teheran with Turkey's extensive system. The influx of huge amounts of oil revenues has also permitted the construction of elaborate road and air networks connecting the major power centers of the region. The oil pipelines also serve as a model for the future development of water pipelines throughout the water-starved region from surplus areas such as the Euphrates catch basin in the Turkish highlands, the Yarmuk River in Jordan, the Litani River in Lebanon, and the Nile to deficit areas in Jordan and Israel, the Arab/Persian Gulf, and northern Syria and Iraq (Cohen 1992, 6). When viewed with the extensive movements of intra-regional migration and capital flows, these elements build an impressive list of centripetal forces that could support future regional equilibrium and stability.

Geopolitical Analysis
Projecting traditional geopolitical analysis against the backdrop of a circumterral Middle East further clarifies the emerging position of the region. Sir Halford Mackinder early on viewed "Arabia" as the sole gap in a "broad curving belt" of desert and wilderness separating Europe, Asia, and Africa and "inaccessible to seafaring people, except by the three Arabian waterways" (Mackinder 1919, 77). He viewed the Sahara rather than the Mediterranean as the southern boundary of Europe and saw the geographic key to Arabia in its waterways:

What, however, most distinguishes Arabia both from the Heartland and the Sahara is the fact that it is transversed by three great waterways in connection with the ocean-the Nile, the Red Sea, and the Euphrates and the Persian Gulf. None of these three ways, however, affords naturally a complete passage across the arid belt. (Mackinder 1919, 76)
Today it is possible to expand upon Mackinder and view these three interrupted waterways as interconnected through the construction of the Suez Canal and the waterways as including the several coasts of Turkey, the eastern Mediterranean, Egypt, Arabia, and Iran.3

Although in 1919, Mackinder viewed Arabia as dominated by the "horsemen and camelmen" of the steppe of the continental heartland, he could not have anticipated that the discovery of oil would transform desert horsemen into maritime merchants and industrialists creating new coastal landscapes in the Persian/Arab Gulf and modernizing the Red Sea coast. His landmark 1904 article, however, still recognized the maritime nature of what he then termed the "Nearer East":

In some degree [it] partakes of the characteristics both of the marginal belt and of the central area of Euro-Asia. It is mainly devoid of forest, is patched with desert, and is therefore suitable for the operations of the nomad. Dominantly, however, it is marginal (i.e., maritime), for sea-gulfs and oceanic rivers lay it open to sea power and permit of the exercise of such power from it. (Mackinder 1904, 431)
Subsequent analyses gave greater weight to the maritime connections of the Middle East than Mackinder accorded it. James Fairgrieve (1927, 329-330) perceived the region as a "crush zone" between overseas European empires and remnant continental states. Nicholas Spykman (1944, 41) argued that the Suez Canal represented the penetration of sea power through the land isthmus between Europe and Asia and thus permanently incorporated the Middle East into the maritime world. The result was a rimland of amphibious states stretching from Europe to the monsoon coasts of Asia via the interpenetrating seas of the Middle East. This rimland served as a "vast buffer zone of conflict between sea power and land power" as well as a global maritime highway formed by a string of marginal and mediterranean seas connecting the world's two great ocean belts, the Atlantic and Pacific. Thus, the Middle East has long been viewed as an integral part of the maritime world even before the emergence of the region's petroleum industry and the world's dependence on it.

Saul Cohen (1973) later described the Middle East as a "shatterbelt" caught between the two superpowers, one continental and the other maritime. Superpower competition was profoundly disturbing to the region as emerging regional power centers (except Israel) frequently switched allegiances with the two outside powers and routinely broke agreements with each other. The development of the Middle East's vast oil reserves further increased the strategic interest of the maritime realm in the region and, in turn, increased the region's connections with the developed world.

Today, with the falling away of the continental former Soviet superpower, that connection to the maritime realm is even stronger and serves as a stabilizing force in a region yet to evolve out of its shatterbelt status. With ambitious regional states no longer able to play the two superpowers off against each other and with six regional powers composing such a complex constellation of forces that none can act freely, the fragmented region has some prospects for a dynamic power equilibrium. Just as the region's physical geography and political relationships are complicated, so the new system of power will be complicated, involving a hierarchy of relationships between the six regional cores and the external maritime powers, especially the United States and maritime Europe. At some future point, it may be possible to create a community of states despite the great ethnic, religious, political, and economic diversity in the region.

As Cohen (1992, 9) has pointed out, the Middle East's power structure is based on multiple power cores in rough balance with "little comparative advantage to those who would seek gain through war." He describes this balance through a seesaw framework with Turkey at the fulcrum (see Figure 4). These relationships have not yet developed into a classical balance of power system where states mutually recognize the territoriality of all other powers. Yet the region's connections to the maritime world have been strengthened most recently by the Gulf War and by the remarkable growth of a complex network of relationships because of the development of the region's oil reserves over the last three decades. With a continuing vital interest in the Middle East even after the end of the Cold War, the maritime world "sets limits on the ambitions of regional overlords" and has an important role to play in reinforcing a dynamic but stable equilibrium (Cohen 1992, 9).

In forging a regional peace, we need to pay particular attention to the circumterral core of the Middle East as it relates to both the network of connections between the region and the maritime world and those between the scattered clusters of power cores within the region. Each isolated power center will have its own particular set of interests determined by its own unique location on the interpenetrating seas and waterways of the circumterral core.

Egypt, for example, has for the last two decades opted for close ties with the United States, the leading maritime power, as a century earlier its ties were to England and France and in classical times to Greece, Rome, and finally Byzantium. Since the Gulf War, Egypt has been building close financial, political, and emigration ties with Saudi Arabia. Syria, somewhat belatedly, is turning westward to the Mediterranean, building closer ties with the maritime world and consolidating its hold on Lebanon. Turkey, located on three of the region's seas, faces Europe and cultivates its ties with NATO and the Western world. Moreover, it is competing with Iran for influence over the newly created Central Asian sovereign states. Anatolia also serves as a potentially vital transshipment point westward for oil from Iraq and Iran and possesses the most important source of untapped water reserves in the region. Iraq continues as a significant regional power because of its great oil wealth and its battered but not completely shattered military machine. However, it continues to suffer from the geographical liability that limits its access to the region's maritime highway.

Highly dependent on land-based pipelines for exporting oil, the Gulf War demonstrated Iraq's vulnerability to blockade. Iran, the one Middle Eastern country that combines huge oil reserves with a large population, has the potential to become the most influential of the six power clusters. Iran's maritime location is also less favorable than the other countries because it has no direct outlet to the Mediterranean and the west and borders a northern sea that leads to a relatively empty continental heartland. The last power cluster, Israel, must remain a regional power in order to survive. Situated on the Mediterranean and with access to the Red Sea, Israel can sustain close economic, military, and political ties with the maritime world and especially the United States but increasingly with the European Community. Thus, the entire network of intra- and inter-regional connections can be viewed as a stabilizing influence to promote long-term peace in the region.

1 Historical desert-oases routes also existed such as the ones that ran through Palmyra (Syria), Petra (Jordan), and Bosra. The modern oases are trans-desert pipeline pumping stations or truck stops.

2 The notion of the Caspian Sea as a dead end is a relative one. Only a single circuitous railroad connection exists through the troubled Caucasus to carry Iran's overland trade to Russia. The Caspian, however, offers a direct water route via Russia's inland waterway system to the Volga industrial region and to the Black Sea via the Volga-Don Canal. Thus a physical route for future Russo-Iranian trade exists once both countries have developed beyond the stage of exporting mainly primary products, especially oil and natural gas.

3 Mackinder's comment about the "persistent north winds of the trade-wind current" (1904, 77) blowing down the Red Sea and inhibiting sailing ships from using this route is long out of date. Strong westerlies called the subtropical jet stream exist in the upper atmosphere, but light and variable winds created by the subtropical high pressure system occur at the surface. Strong spring and fall winds create large dust storms, but they last only a few days. In the winter, the passage of depressions through the regions can create occasional steep pressure gradients (Beaumont et al. 1988, 51-55).

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Richard W. Fox is professor of history, political science, and geography at Suffolk Community College. Saul B. Cohen is university professor of geography at Hunter College and the City University of New York.