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Israelis might prefer to think of the recent prisoner exchange with Hezbollah as a victory for Jewish values, but will have to admit that in the final analysis, Hezbollah has again beaten Israel. Just look at the celebrations Nasrallah orchestrated in Beirut, his renewed threats, the pronouncements of Hamas leader Ahmed Yassin, and the enthusiastic welcome the released PLO terrorists got on returning home. All of this should dispel any doubts, if there were any, that Hezbollah has won a victory.

It is Hezbollah's second victory over Israel. Its first victory over Israel was when Ehud Barak decided to pull the IDF out of southern Lebanon and shamelessly abandon the SLA men who had been our allies for many years. To Hezbollah and Palestinian terrorists it was a clear indication that Israel did not have the stamina to withstand the kind of pressure that a small group of terrorists can apply.

In its wake followed the Palestinian terror campaign. Barak's warning, at the time, that now he IDF was deployed along the international border, any further hostile activities by Hezbollah would be met by a powerful Israeli response, turned out to be an empty threat, which Nasrallah understood only too well. Hezbollah's subsequent kidnapping and killing of three Israeli soldiers and kidnapping of Elhanan Tennenbaum by Hezbollah only led to prolonged negotiations for their release that culminated in the celebrations is Beirut.

How is it that Hezbollah, a relatively small terrorist organization, whose bases of operation are within arm's reach of Israel, succeeds in giving Israel a bloody nose, time after time? What are the limitations that Israel has placed upon itself that have prevented it from delivering a knock-out blow to the Hezbollah? And what are the reason for these self-imposed limitations?

It is true Hezbollah is embedded in the towns and villages of Lebanon, and generally does not present targets that can be successfully hit with surgical precision by the advanced weaponry of the IDF. As long as Israel's response to Hezbollah attacks will be limited to attempts to hit Hezbollah directly, they are likely to remain as ineffective as they had been during the years of the IDF's presence in southern Lebanon.

Only when we recognize that Hezbollah's hostile actions against Israel are in effect acts of aggression committed by Lebanon, the country that provides a haven, protection, and sustenance for Hezbollah, that the obvious target for Israel's response becomes apparent - Lebanon.

Lebanon's support for Hezbollah continues only so long as Lebanon remains unscathed. When its well-being is threatened, Lebanon and its patron in Damascus change course quickly. This was recognized on June 24th, 1999, when in retaliation for Hezbollah Katyusha attacks against Israel, the IAF hit a number of primary infrastructure targets in Lebanoan thus silencing the Hezbollah.

Unfortunately, Barak, who assumed office shortly thereafter, reversed course, returned to the vain attempts to wage a guerrilla war against Hezbollah on their home ground, and eventually conceded defeat and fled Lebanon.

The Lebanese government's support for Hezbollah was demonstrated yet again by the Lebanese president's participation in Nasrallah's celebrations in Beirut the other day. They have learned that they can let Hezbollah operate freely in southern Lebanon, that they need not move the Lebanese army into the areas evacuated by the IDF and the SLA, that they do not need to stop Hezbollah's activities in the Bekaa Valley.

In other words that they can give free rein to Hezbollah, and no harm will befall them. Until this equation is changed we can expect to be hit by Hezbollah again. There is no need for the IDF to occupy Lebanon. The long arm of the IDF is enough. As for any concern over American disapproval, there are the words of President George Bush: "Whoever harbors terrorists, is a terrorist". It is true Lebanon is dominated by the Syrians, and Syrian approval is needed for any Lebanese action. But it is just this symbiotic relationship that should make the Syrians sensitive to what happens to their protectorate.

That, and the knowledge that if the situation continues to deteriorate they may very well be the next in line. So it is time to put the Lebanese government on notice that the masquerade is over. They may call Hezbollah freedom fighters, they may applaud them in Beirut, they can act helpless and blame the Syrians and the Iranians, but the responsibility is on their shoulders. They have to rein in the Hezbollah or else they suffer the consequences.