The Middle East is one of the most complex regions in the world. Since the 20th century, it has experienced several wars, uprisings, and invasions. Today there are four failing states and three ongoing wars. While the Islamic State may be close to defeat, other extremist groups are gaining strength across borders as major powers use them against each other.

But underneath all the conflict, there are two common actors: Saudi Arabia and Iran. They are bitter rivals, whose feud goes back almost 40 years. Each country believes it is the rightful leader of the Middle East and feels threatened by the other. But they’ve never declared war on each other. Instead, they support opposing groups in other conflicts, like the civil wars in Iraq, Syria, and Yemen. This has only created more violence across the region, and the feud continues to escalate with no end in sight.

 

This feature originally appeared in Vox.

 


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