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The other Israel - Lebanon border conflict

Off shore, and generally off the radar, a fight is heating up between Israel and Lebanon over who controls a valuable piece of the Mediterranean that is known to have two major gas fields possibly worth billions of dollars. As always, when it comes to border issues between these two nations, the rhetoric has become heated -- and there's the fear that this could signal the next big clash between Israel and Hezbollah. Hezbollah's deputy secretary general Sheikh Naim Qassem minced no words, saying today the group "will remain vigilant in order to regain its full rights, whatever it takes."

Israel's rhetoric has been equally heated. Last year, Deputy Prime Minister Uzi Landau said Israel "would not hesitate to use our force and strength to protect...international maritime law."

Qassem's comments today were in response to Israel, which on Sunday issued a map that it plans on submitting to the United Nations. Lebanon says, though, that the Israeli map encroaches on their territory by more than 1,500 square kilometers. Last year, Lebanon submitted a map of their own to the world body -- hoping for mediation.

Israeli officials say Hezbollah, boosted by its new political clout, is trying to pick a fight with Israel as a pretext for continuing their conflict.

But Hezbollah says that Israel is trying to snatch valuable territory and that it won't be "frightened by" Israeli threats.

A resolution is tricky. There is a lot of money at stake for the two resource-poor countries -- maybe up to $90 billion worth of gas. Hezbollah's position is not dissimilar from the previous Western-backed government led by Saad Hariri, which also accused Israel of taking part of its offshore territory.

So, who actually controls what? The only internationally recognized border between Lebanon and Israel -- the blue line -- was drawn up in 2000 by the United Nations, following the Israeli withdraw from southern Lebanon.

But trying to extend that into the sea isn't so simple. Israel says it drew a straight line out from shore to demarcate the sea border. But Lebanon says the angle Israel used gives it more territory than it should have, since it's drawn too far north. The territory extends to water controlled by Cyprus (both Israel and Lebanon have separate agreements with that country).  

International law says countries that share sea borders have to reach bilateral agreements on how to demarcate them. But that's not so easy, given Israel and Lebanon are still technically in a state of war.

Israel would seem to have an advantage, legally -- since it has already staked its claim and is exploring the fields, experts say.

That's why Lebanon is asking the United Nations to step in. Though, as with everything when it comes to that world body, the process is sure to take a long time, if it's ever resolved. In the meantime, there will be more heated rhetoric. This weekend, Israel's Vice Prime Minister Moshe Ya'alon, compared the sea dispute to Shebaa Farms, the tiny area that Lebanon and Israel both claim and have led to flare-ups in the past. Given what's at stake in terms of mineral wealth, and the history of the border -- whether it stays at just heated rhetoric, or escalates to something more significant, is a question that has to be considered.

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Murdoch faces heat in U.S., Australia

There's no relief in sight for the embattled 80-year-old media tycoon. Today, British analysts grappled with a question many have called unprecedented -- what power, if any, does the Parliament have to compel Rupert Murdoch to testify? Murdoch, an American citizen, declined an invitation to attend a parliamentary hearing next Tuesday (though he said he will participate in a separate inquiry set up by Prime Minister David Cameron).

The chair of the committee said if Murdoch doesn't show on Tuesday, he would be in contempt of Parliament -- though there was confusion about what that actually means since its rarely ever been implemented. The BBC said it was "unchartered waters,"given that Murdoch is a non-Brit.

"If they have any shred of sense of responsibility or accountability for their position of power, then they should come and explain themselves before a select committee," the Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg, said today (referring to Murdoch and his son James, who has also declined to testify Tuesday).

The Murdochs are most likely trying to buy some time, hoping the media frenzy dies down a little before they are forced to talk publicly -- in what is likely to be a very hostile setting. (James said he'd be willing to testify in August).

In the meantime, things aren't going any better for Murdoch in his home country -- the United States -- nor in Australia, his place of birth. The scandal has truly taken on a global dimension.

United States: Today, there were more calls for a congressional investigation. Rep. Bruce Braley (D-IA), a powerful member of the House oversight committee, accused Murdoch's company of potentially engaging in "political espionage or personal espionage."

He joined Republican Peter King, who yesterday called on the FBI to look into whether journalists tried to tap into the phones of 9/11 victims. Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) said earlier in the week he suspected a U.S. probe would "find some criminal stuff."

A U.S. criminal investigation -- though unlikely -- would be disastrous for Murdoch, who's empire is based in the United States. It would put the company -- and its many holdings, including the Wall Street Journal, Fox News, and the New York Post,under a microscope like never before. Even beyond illegal activity, embarrassing or less-than-exemplary practices could be exposed.

Eliot Spitzer, for one, believes more shady dealings will emerge -- and will likely include Murdoch properties based in the United States. "Given the frequency with which he shuttled his senior executives and editors across the various oceans-Pacific as well as Atlantic-it is unlikely that the shoddy ethics were limited to Great Britain," the former prosecutor, governor, CNN anchor, and expert on shoddy ethics wrote in Slate.

Australia: Speaking of the Pacific, Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard today said she was open to initiating a probe of Murdoch's Australia holdings -- which comprise nearly 70 percent of the country's print media and a good chunk of its TV market. 

Gillard said she was "disgusted" by the extent of the scandal in Britain.

The head of News Limited, Murdoch's Australian media arm, John Hartigan, said there would be an internal review of the company's practices, but said it was "offensive and wrong [to] connect the behavior in the UK with News Limited's conduct in Australia."

So, where does that leave Murdoch? Maybe China, where he's been expanding his footprint lately, is looking like a good refuge. His wife, Wendi, just produced a movie that is a hit there.

In fact, she told the Los Angeles Times -- apparently without any sense of irony -- that she had little trouble raising money for the movie: "Everybody in China wanted to give us money," she told the paper. "In China, everybody knows who I am. It definitely helped. They have confidence in me."

 

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