Region spends £40bn a year on re-equipping its armies

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The Independent Online

Conditions ripe for a "wave of terrorism" in the Middle East, an influential think-tank, the International Institute for Strategic Studies, warned yesterday.

Conditions ripe for a "wave of terrorism" in the Middle East, an influential think-tank, the International Institute for Strategic Studies, warned yesterday.

In a gloomy assessment of the prospects for a resumption of peace talks, the London-based institute said it expected the Israeli and Palestinian leaders to "hunker in" until after the inauguration of a new United States president in January.

New research published by the institute yesterday showed that the Middle East stockpiled more arms than any other region of the world last year. Speaking at the launch of the report, the body's Middle East expert Steven Simon said: "With respect to terrorist attacks, we can certainly expect more ... Should this happen, and conditions for it are ripe, it will certainly set back whatever efforts are being contemplated to renew peace negotiations."

Overall, military spending worldwide reached $809bn (£560m) last year, $60bn of it by the Middle East, the institute said in its annual report. Although the international arms trade fell slightly, countries in the Middle East held their rank as the world's biggest arms customers and the was likely to continue, in light of the almost total collapse of the peace process, the think-tank said.

"With the underlying tensions of the Middle East and North Africa region far from resolved, this remains the world's leading arms market," the report, The Military Balance, concluded.

Israel is clearly the biggest military power in the Middle East, in terms of quality of both fighting men and material. In terms of cash spent on hardware, Saudi Arabia tops the league - it took delivery of arms worth $6bn last year. The institute calculates that at least 100,000 people died in armed conflict last year, 60 per cent of them in sub-Saharan Africa.

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