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Resolution 1559 by the United Nations Security Council on Thursday, calling for the withdrawal of all foreign forces from Lebanon, for the militias there to be dismantled, and for free presidential elections, represents an appropriate intervention by the international community to attain calm and security in the Middle East.

The Syrian occupation of Lebanon, which commenced in 1976, has long become a lamentable fact of life in the region. The Beirut government is an extension of the regime in Damascus and carries out its orders. Hezbollah rules south Lebanon and deploys thousands of Katyusha and other rockets against Israel, while the Lebanese government avoids implementing its sovereignty there. Iranian Revolutionary Guards spread out across Lebanon provide Hezbollah with ideological and military backing.

For years, the international community refrained from dealing with the Syrian occupation of Lebanon. The current initiative by France and the United States, which led to the Security Council resolution, came in response to the Syrian proposal to amend the Lebanese constitution so that President Emile Lahoud can remain in his post for another three years. Until now, Lebanese presidents could serve for a single six-year term, thereby providing an example for regime change in Arab countries, whose rulers frequently serve until they die or are forced out of power.

Washington and Paris demonstrated that they are capable of cooperating on the Middle East, despite the disagreement over Iraq. The rare concord led to a majority in the Security Council vote, though at the price of softening the proposed resolution. The specific reference to Syria was deleted, replaced by a call for the exit of "all remaining foreign forces," which the Lebanese interpret as a call for an Israeli withdrawal from the Shaba Farms. Syria and Lebanon announced that they will not honor the resolution, and the parliament in Beirut on Friday approved the constitutional change to allow the president to remain in office, as Damascus demanded.

Israel has a substantial interest in a renewed independence and sovereignty in Lebanon, whose weakness was and remains the source of security threats from the north. Therefore, it should welcome the Security Council resolution and support its implementation, including the evacuation of Syrian and Iranian forces and the disarmament of Hezbollah.

Resolution 1559 and the increasing international pressure on Damascus would not have been made possible without the decision by former prime minister Ehud Barak to withdraw from Lebanon in May 2000. The withdrawal of the Israel Defense Forces, though regrettably belated and bloody, legitimizes the international community's intervention against Syria, Iran, and Hezbollah, which can no longer use resistance to the Israeli occupation to excuse their armed presence in Lebanon. The time has now come for Syria to do its share in reviving Lebanese independence.

From Israel's standpoint, the timely lesson of this Lebanese affair is that unilateral Israeli measures that enjoy international backing can jump-start positive processes in the region. Getting out of Lebanon, and the relative quiet that has since prevailed in the Galilee, have proved that a recognized international border is a more effective measure of deterrance than the military occupation of "the security zone." This poses an important example in gearing up for implementation of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's plan to disengage from the Gaza Strip and northern Samaria.