Jeremy Levin of Cable News Network, the American journalist kidnapped in Beirut on March 7, 1984, is free after a terrible ordeal.

The circumstances of his deliverance suggest that his captors, believed to be a group called Islamic Jihad, were feeling a certain heat. Last month, the group, notching up its stated effort to drive all Americans out of Lebanon, had threatened to try as a spy Mr. Levin and four other American civilians seized in the past year. But this week, someone speaking for the group said that it had established he was not a spy and that it had received "many approaches" in the five's behalf from "brotherly and effective sides." The caller also uttered a new threat -- against the new American president of the American University of Beirut (his predecessor was murdered) and "some Lebanese and foreign professors" there.

When Iranians seized the American Embassy in Tehran, an intensive public campaign was mounted for the hostages by the U.S. government. But, inside and outside the government, it was widely feared that the result was merely to bid up the price that the Iranians figured Jimmy Carter would pay for their release; in any event, the campaign advertised American impotence on a global screen.

In time, Ronald Reagan found himself in a hostage situation scarcely less embarrassing than the one he had belabored Jimmy Carter for -- more embarrassing, if you recall that early on the Reagan administration staked its prestige directly on its capacity to combat terrorism. The embarrassment, along with the perceived lessons of the Carter experience, has led the Reagan team to keep its activity -- its diplomatic activity; it has yet to find a feasible military option -- intense and persistent but in a relatively low key. This has lowered the political price Mr. Reagan has had to pay, though it cannot yet be said to have had a decisive effect in the main arena of liberating the hostages.

That one man has now been released, however, is certainly encouraging. Four other Americans remain captive -- an embassy officer, a Presbyterian minister, a librarian and a priest doing relief work -- as well as some other foreigners, including a Saudi diplomat. Their capitivity has confirmed two communities. In one are the terrorists with their ties in Iran. In the other are the victims of terrorism, who include not only the kidnapped but also the mass of the Lebanese people, whose whole country has been ravaged. Civilized people everywhere sympathize with the victims.