THE TERM Middle East came to modern use after World War II, and was applied to the lands around the eastern end of the Mediterranean Sea including Turkey and Greece, together with Iran and, more recently, the greater part of North Africa. The old Middle East began at the river valleys of the Tigris and the Euphrates rivers or at the western borders of Iran and extended to Burma (Myanmar) and Ceylon (Sri Lanka). Some geographers today say the Middle East region stretches 6,000 mile (9,656 kilometer) eastward from the dry Atlantic shores of Mauritania to the high mountain core of Afghanistan. Other geographers begin the Middle East with Egypt. It includes numerous separate political states, most of which were created by colonial government cartographers in the 19th and 20th centuries. A good deal of the Middle East is too dry or rugged to sustain human life, and only 5 to 10 percent of the entire region is cultivated. As a result, a stark contrast exists between core areas of dense human settlement where water is plentiful, and the empty wastes of surrounding deserts and mountains. Four regions can be identified in this vast, diverse, and distinct area: the Northern Highlands, a 3,000-mi- (4,828-km-) long zone of plateaus and mountains in Turkey, Iran, and Afghanistan, stretching from the Mediterranean Sea to Central Asia; the Arabian Peninsula, a million-square-mi- (2.6-million-square-km-) desert quadrilateral jutting southward into the Indian Ocean and flanked on either side by the Persian (or Arabian) Gulf and the Red Sea; the Central Middle East, the rich valleys of the Nile in Egypt and of the Tigris and Euphrates in Iraq, and the intervening fertile crescent countries of Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria; and North Africa, a band of watered mountains and plains set between the Sahara Desert and the Mediterranean Sea. Known by the Arabs as al Maghrib al Aqsa (“Land of the Setting Sun”), it includes the nations of Tunisia, Algeria, Morocco, and Libya.