Israel’s government does not appear to be getting along with David Cameron, the UK foreign secretary and former prime minister. But appearances can be deceiving. As a side effect of the Biden administration’s split-personality attempts to placate the president’s base while mostly maintaining his preferred Israel policy, it’s hard to avoid wondering how much of the public interaction between high-level officials is purely for the benefit of domestic political interests.

Here’s what we know. A few weeks ago, as I wrote at the time, Cameron played the bad cop to Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s good cop when Benny Gantz, a member of the Israeli war cabinet and leading opposition politician, came to London for meetings and briefings on the war in Gaza.

Then Israel suspended government spokesman Eylon Levy, apparently after complaints from Cameron. The London-born Levy has been seen as an effective communicator both on social media and on TV, though his recent Twitter responses to Cameron were widely blamed for the suspension. Cameron had posted about the need for Israel to improve its provisions of aid to Gazans, and Levy took issue with Cameron’s apparent undercounting of food deliveries Israel has facilitated of late. It did not seem to be a particularly heated exchange, but after a second such tweet the Foreign Ministry reportedly wrote to its Israeli counterpart to ask for clarification on whether Levy was speaking for the Israeli government or for himself.

There were internal politics at work in Levy’s suspension as well. But there doesn’t seem to be any doubt that Cameron’s Foreign Ministry complained about the tweets. Then, immediately following that dustup, Cameron reportedly threatened Israel with a Europe-wide “arms embargo” if Red Cross officials were not permitted to meet with high-level Hamas detainees from the unit responsible for the Oct. 7 attacks.

At the same time—in a pattern that will look familiar to Americans watching this play out—Cameron has come under fire by the British left for being, in private, too accommodating to Israel. As foreign minister, Cameron signs off on arms transfers to Israel after reviewing Jerusalem’s compliance with international law. The internal details of that process are not made public, but a Ramallah-based Palestinian group and an Ireland-based lawfare firm are petitioning for legal review of the decision to continue arms exports to the Jewish state. The Labour Party has jumped on that bandwagon.

Cameron is in a unique position, and that puts the government in one as well. Sunak inherited a ruling party in a state of disarray—one that began, arguably, with Cameron’s premiership. That ended in 2016 when Britain voted for Brexit over Cameron’s wishes. Sunak is the UK’s fourth prime minister in the eight years since. His decision to fire Suella Braverman and hire Cameron was intended to bring some stability to the Tories’ governance.

But Cameron isn’t an elected politician. In order to bring him into the cabinet, he was made a life peer in the House of Lords. He is not, then, a traditional threat to Sunak. But he is a threat.

“Few, if any, other government departments in Whitehall feel newly energized these days as the Tories’ 14 years in power splutter towards their probable unedifying end,” reports the Guardian. “The Foreign Office, for now at least, seems to be the exception. Cameron’s officials, and diplomats in the field, believe that the contrasts in his approach from those who went before him stem partly from the fact that his first and only other job in government was that of prime minister.”

The pace suits him. Cameron has become known as “the prime minister for external affairs.” When the Conservatives’ time in the majority is up, so is Cameron’s. He’s trying to wash away the stain of his Brexit faceplant, when he presided over a public referendum that served as a repudiation of his own leadership. One Cameron ally described his ambitions to the Guardian this way: “He needs to make this work, then get another job afterwards; a big international job—maybe helping work on a permanent settlement for the Middle East.”

A professional peace processor on a resume-building mission, in other words—sure to be seen as a red flag to his counterparts in the region, though he retains a solid working relationship with the U.S. and Israel.

The last thing Israel needs is to play Kremlinology with another ally, so perhaps the best way to determine what Cameron wants is to pay attention to how he aims to be seen. And right now, his public criticism of Israel is “becoming more strident by the day,” even writing to a House of Commons committee of his “enormous frustration” with Israel over aid to Gaza.

When he complained about Levy’s tweets, Cameron is reported to have asked the Israeli government if that is the way allies speak to each other. Israel’s response might well be: You tell me.

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