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The Arabian Peninsula (in Arabic: شبه الجزيرة العربية, or جزيرة العرب) is a peninsula in Southwest Asia at the junction of Africa and Asia consisting mainly of desert. The Arabian Peninsula is an important part of the Middle East, and plays a critically important geopolitical role because of its vast reserves of oil and natural gas.
The coasts of the peninsula touch, on the west, the Red Sea and Gulf of Aqaba; on the southeast, the Arabian Sea (part of the Indian Ocean); and on the northeast, the Gulf of Oman, the Strait of Hormuz, and the Persian Gulf.
Its northern limit is defined by the Zagros collision zone, a mountainous uplift where a continental collision between the Arabian Plate and Asia is occurring. Geographically, it merges with the Syrian Desert with no clear line of demarcation.
Politically, the Arabian Peninsula is separated from the rest of Asia by the northern borders of Saudi Arabia and Kuwait. The following countries are considered part of the peninsula:
- Bahrain — an island just off the coast of the peninsula
- Saudi Arabia
- United Arab Emirates
With the exception of Yemen and Iraq, these countries (called the Persian Gulf states) are among the wealthiest in the world in relation to their small populations, thanks to their hydrocarbon reserves.
 Ancient history
Until comparatively recent times knowledge of the Arabian Peninsula was limited to that provided by ancient Greek and Roman writers and by early Arab geographers; much of this material was unreliable. In the 20th century, however, archaeological exploration has added considerably to the knowledge of the area.
The earliest known events in Arabian history are migrations from the peninsula into neighbouring areas <ref>Philip Khuri Hitti (2002), History of the Arabs, Revised: 10th Edition</ref>. About 3500 BC, Semitic-speaking peoples of Arabian origin migrated into the valley of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers in Mesopotamia, supplanted the Sumerians, and became the Assyro-Babylonians (see Babylonia and Assyria). Some archeologists argue that another group of Semites left Arabia about 2500 bc during the Early Bronze Age and settled along the Levant, mixing in with the local populations there some of these migrants became the Amorites and Canaanites of later times. Some archeologists argue that the migration instead came from the northern Levant. Other archeologists argue that there was no migration, and that the outside influences found in the indigenous Levantine population resulted from trade. Bernard Lewis mentions in his book The Arabs in History:
"According to this, Arabia was originally a land of great fertility and the first home of the Semitic peoples. Through the millennia it has been undergoing a process of steady desiccation, a drying up of wealth and waterways and a spread of the desert at the expense of the cultivable land. The declining productivity of the peninsula, together with the increase in the number of the inhabitants, led to a series of crises of overpopulation and consequently to a recurring cycle of invasions of the neighbouring countries by the Semitic peoples of the peninsula. It was these crises that carried the Assyrians, Aramaeans, Canaanites (including the Phoenicians and Hebrews), and finally the Arabs themselves into the Fertile Crescent."<ref> Bernard Lewis (2002), The Arabs in History, Oxford University Press, USA; 6New Ed edition, page 17</ref>
The better-watered, higher portions of the extreme south-west portion of the Arabian Peninsula supported three early kingdoms. The first, the Minaean, was centred in the interior of what is now Yemen, but probably embraced most of southern Arabia. Although dating is difficult, it is generally believed that the Minaean Kingdom existed from 1200 to 650 BC. The second kingdom, the Sabaean (see Sheba), was founded about 930 bc and lasted until about 115 BC; it probably supplanted the Minaean Kingdom and occupied substantially the same territory. The Sabaean capital and chief city, Ma’rib, probably flourished as did no other city of ancient Arabia, partly because of its controlling position on the caravan routes linking the seaports of the Mediterranean with the frankincense-growing region of the Hadhramaut and partly because a large nearby dam provided water for irrigation. The Sabaean Kingdom was widely referred to as Saba, and it has been suggested that the Queen of Sheba mentioned in the Bible, who visited King Solomon of Israel in Jerusalem in the 10th century BC, was Sabaean. The Himyarites followed the Sabaeans as the leaders in southern Arabia; the Himyarite Kingdom lasted from about 115 BC to about AD 525. In 24 BC the Roman emperor Augustus sent the prefect of Egypt, Aelius Gallus, against the Himyarites, but his army of 10,000, which was unsuccessful, returned to Egypt. The Himyarites prospered in the frankincense, myrrh, and spice trade until the Romans began to open the sea routes through the Red Sea.
 Modern history
The country of Saudi Arabia covers the greater part of the peninsula. The majority of the population of the peninsula lives in Saudi Arabia and in Yemen. The peninsula contains the world's largest reserves of oil. It is home to the Islamic holy cities of Mecca and Medina, both of which are in Saudi Arabia. The UAE and Saudi Arabia are economically the wealthiest in the region. Qatar, a small peninsula in the Persian Gulf on the larger peninsula, is home of the famous Arabic language television station Al Jazeera. Kuwait, on the border with Iraq, was claimed as an Iraqi province and invaded by Saddam Hussein during the first Gulf War; it is an important country strategically, forming one of the main staging grounds for coalition forces mounting the invasion of Iraq in 2003.
The peninsula is one of the possible homelands of the Proto-Semitic language (though Northeast Africa is today thought to be a more likely homeland), ancestors of all the Semitic-speaking peoples in the region — the Akkadians, Arabs, Assyrians, Hebrews, etc. Linguistically, the peninsula was the cradle of the Arabic language (spread beyond the peninsula with the Islamic religion during the expansion of Islam beginning in the 7th century CE) and still maintains tiny populations of speakers of South Semitic languages such as Mehri and Shehri, remnants of the language family that was spoken in earlier historical periods when the kingdom of Sheba flourished in the southern part of the peninsula (modern-day Yemen and Oman).
Geologically, this region is perhaps more appropriately called the Arabian subcontinent because it lies on a tectonic plate of its own, the Arabian Plate, which has been moving incrementally away from northeast Africa (forming the Red Sea) and north into the Eurasian plate (forming the Zagros mountains). The rocks exposed vary systematically across Arabia, with the oldest rocks exposed in the Arabian-Nubian Shield near the Red Sea, overlain by earlier sediments that become younger towards the Persian Gulf. Perhaps the best-preserved ophiolite on Earth, Semail ophiolite, lies exposed in the mountains of the UAE and northern Oman.
The peninsula consists of:
- a central plateau with fertile valleys and pastures used for the grazing of sheep and other livestock.
- a range of deserts, the Nefud in the north, stony; the Rub' Al-Khali or Great Arabian Desert, in the south, with sand estimated to extend 600 ft. below the surface; and between them, the Dahna.
- stretches of dry or marshy coastland with coral reefs on the Red Sea side.
- ranges of mountains, primarily paralleling the Red Sea on the western (e.g. Asir province) and southeastern end (Oman). The highest, Jabal Al-Nabi Sho'aib in Yemen, is 3666 m high.
Arabia has few lakes or permanent rivers. Most are drained by ephemeral watercourses called wadis, which are dry except during the rainy season. Plentiful ancient aquifers exist beneath much of the peninsula, however, and where this water surfaces, oases form (e.g. the Al-Hasa and Qatif oases) and permit agriculture. The climate being extremely hot and arid, the peninsula has no forests, although desert-adapted wildlife is present throughout the region.
A plateau more than 2,500 feet high extends across much of the Arabian Peninsula. The plateau slopes eastwards from the massive, rifted escarpment along the coast of the Red Sea, to the shallow waters of The Gulf. The interior is characterised by cuestas and valleys, drained by a system of wadis. A crescent of sand and gravel deserts lies to the east.
Ar Rub' al Khali, also known as the Empty Quarter, is the most arid part of the Arabian Peninsula. It is the largest uninterrupted sand desert in the world. Ridges of sand up to 40 km long, run northeast-southwest, giving characteristic linear dunes.
 Land and sea
Most of the Arabian Peninsula is unsuited to settled agriculture, making irrigation and land reclamation projects essential. The narrow coastal plain and isolated oases, commonly amounting to less than 1% of the land area, are used to cultivate grains, coffee and exotic fruits. Goats, sheep and camels are widespread throughout the region.
The fertile soils of Yemen have encouraged settlement of almost all of the land from sea level up to the mountains at 10,000 feet. In the higher reaches elaborate terraces have been constructed to facilitate crop cultivation.
 Transport and industry
The extraction and refining of oil and gas are the major industrial activities in the Arabian Peninsula. The region also has an active construction sector, with many cities reflecting the wealth generated by the oil industry. The service sector is dominated by financial and technical institutions, which, like the construction sector, mainly serve the oil industry. Traditional handicrafts such as carpet-weaving are found in rural areas.
 See also
- Iram of the Pillars
- Arab World
- Rub' al Khali (desert)
- Arabia Deserta
- Arabia Petraea
- Arabia Felix
- Arabian Desert and East Sahero-Arabian xeric shrublands
 External links
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