The end of World War I signified the end of the last of the major old-world empires: the Ottoman Empire. As Ryan Gingeras wrote in his book The Fall of the Sultanate, “It is likely that no study can bridge the numerous divides and antagonisms that mar contemporary perceptions of the end of the Ottoman Empire.” This same implication and consideration could and can be used to describe the rest of the Middle East after the Great War. However, while we will briefly examine the stage of modern conflicts in the Middle East, we would be negligent to not remind readers that such strife and conflict in the region begins far before the birth of modern society.
The World War Era roughly established the geopolitical boundaries that we know of in the Middle East today. Beginning with the collapse of the Ottoman Empire following the First World War, Western powers began to divide up the region to the best of their limited understanding. Syria and Lebanon came under the protection of France, while Iraq and Lebanon came under the protection of Britain. Despite the establishment of these new protectorates, many other factions within the fledgling nations were promised intent to establish new nations of their own. This was especially true in the new Kingdom of Iraq which hegemonized populations of Kurds, Assyrians, and Turkmens. These small protectorates would gain their independence following the Second World War. The internal factions began struggling almost immediately.
By the onset of World War II, the rise of Adolf Hitler pressed the need to establish an independent Jewish state. A mass exodus of displaced Jewish immigrants had fled to Palestine. Subsequently, after World War II ended, the British established the state of Israel. Tensions in this region have persisted over territorial disputes pertaining to the geopolitical boundaries, butthey began almost immediately in the 1948 Israeli-Arab War. The region remained a hotbed for small skirmishes, land-grabs, and proxy wars throughout the Cold War and into the modern Global War on Terror.
The region was a hotbed for several major events from its arbitrary fracturing. These events included the 1956 Suez Crisis and the 1967 blocking of the Suez, the OPEC trade wars, the Iranian Hostage Situation, the Iran-Iraq War, the Afghanistan Civil Wars, and the Gulf War. Many of these conflicts erupted due to territorial disputes, proxy conflict from world superpowers, and resource grabs.
American involvement in the Middle East largely culminated itself in the form of proxy aid. Today, most American activity in the region is for insurgency deterrence. Conflict continues internally among many factions for land rights, resources, and political recognition—all of which is beyond outside control.
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