"[T]he turbulent history of the area does not augur well for stability; if it is not one country, it is another, and if it is not one issue it is another." So do Abi-Aad and Grenon sigh toward the end of their book, having catalogued the Middle East's very many problems. They look at power politics, ideology, military confrontations, and religious and ethnic differences. They focus in depth on the arbitrary borders of the region, the problems that arise from vast disparities in economic growth, in divergent oil and gas policies, in water discrepancies, demographic rates, migrations of workers and refugees, and the outside world's deep interest in Middle Eastern oil supplies.

The total picture is a most unhappy one, and so is it when one looks at the issues one by one. The region's border disputes they call "time bombs" that are "poisoning" relations between states. The potential for conflict over water "is at its most extreme" in the Middle East. The demographic explosion creates "some of the most difficult" challenges of the decades ahead. "Conflicts in the Middle East since the Second World War have produced the largest refugee flows" of any region. So pervasive has conflict been that "of the 260 years representing the cumulative age of the international export pipelines (crossing at least one state boundary), some 134 years of actual pumping, or only 52 per cent, have been recorded."

The authors point out much else of note. Remarkably little prospecting for oil is taking place in the Middle East; in June 1996, only 7 percent of the world's active exploration rigs were in that region. In 1991, Iran hosted more refugees than any other country. Iran and nearly all the Arab countries grew poorer in the decade 1985-94. In all, Instability and Conflict in the Middle East offers a useful primer to the troubles of a troubled region.