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"Mr. Secretary of Defense," said Mordechai Vanunu to Donald Rumsfeld, "You talk about countries trying to produce weapons of mass destruction. You talked about Iraq and you talked about Iran and North Korea. I have a question, a direct question to you. What are you doing with Israel? As for Israel, it has more atomic weapons than any other country in the region. I think that if the position toward Israel were different, then the situation would be different in the Middle East, and this is a great problem."

Rumsfeld was not confused by the question. "You know the answer before I give it, I'm sure. The world knows the answer. We take the world as you find it; and Israel is a small state with a small population. It's a democracy and it exists in a neighborhood [where] many over a period of time has opined from time to time that they'd prefer it not be there and they'd like it to be put in the sea. And Israel has opined that it would prefer not to be put in the sea, and as a result, over a period of decades, it has arranged itself so it hasn't been put in the sea."

This was an authentic dialogue, except for Vanunu. The person who posed the question to Rumsfeld three months ago in Munich was a Palestinian journalist. Rumsfeld's response reflects the policy of the Bush administration: Israel's nuclear capability is meant to deter those who plot to destroy it, is justified as a policy, no less, for example, than France's possession of nuclear weapons, and it does not bother Washington.

Around the same time, Rumsfeld's deputy, Paul Wolfowitz, drew a connection between the American campaign to get rid of Saddam Hussein's regime and Israeli willingness to reach political compromise. Without Iraq, said Wolfowitz, the dangers faced by Israel are reduced and its readiness to return territories increases, though that's not enough to save it the need to fight terror.

These elements, de facto, are the elements of Israeli security at the start of the third millennium: Relying on America, strategic deterrence, fighting terrorism, mitigating the importance of territory. The Israel Defense Forces functions inside Israel of the border of June 4, 1967, plus-minus, and consciously loses some of its offensive dimensions. Contrary to the popular image of a combative general staff, it is adapting to reality - if the political echelon turns vegetarian, the generals won't impose a meal of meat, and if the politicians suddenly change their mind, they'll only find fruits and vegetables in the fridge.

In case of war against a neighboring state, the IDF will produce a short "show" and a cheap one, with few Israeli casualties and in a way that makes unnecessary any war after the war - uprisings, guerrillas, terrorists in territories that are not empty of civilian populations (and anyway there won't be any escape or expulsion) and policing that divides both domestic and international support: The world won't allow it; the Israeli public won't want it.

After the withdrawals from Sinai and Lebanon, and ahead of the withdrawals from Gaza and the West Bank, the IDF got the message, and no less than that, the budget cuts and the separation fence. No more occupations, prepare for attacks from the distance, there's no need for large numbers of forces in ground maneuvers. The key word is "dominance" in three core areas - air, intelligence (about the enemy and other elements in the region and the world) and information (about various IDF forces and how best to exploit them).

One aspect of this is apparent in logistics. The IDF has decided to give up habits that are nearly 40 years old, to give up large maintenance corps that moved in the wake of the forces.

Instead it will make do with regional maintenance, with tight flanks, because there will be no place to move (and if there's nowhere to move, there won't be an order to move). That's the reigning school of thought now in the senior command, despite reservations by some officers who say the army should also keep in reserve the kind of capabilities required for maneuvering on a front and with long-range depth.

There will yet be operations over the borders, air and naval raids and special forces missions. But the era of conquests and occupations is over. Israel might raid, but it won't expand.