Foreign policy is still subject to domestic politics, no matter how far away the theater of battle is.

That is a pretty reliable rule, and it explains much of what people are finding inexplicable: the insistence that the Biden administration is giving Israel “tough love” in private conversations while publicly supporting the IDF’s mission in Gaza. “Netanyahu’s war bluster exposes growing rift with Biden,” reports The Hill, putting a slightly more dramatic gloss on a version of the same story you can read today in the New York Times, Washington Post, and elsewhere.

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin’s trip to Israel yesterday, reports the Times, “was part of a full-court press by the Biden administration to urge Israeli officials to wrap up the ‘high-intensity’ phase of the war and begin carrying out more targeted, intelligence-driven missions to find and kill Hamas leaders, destroy the tunnels used by the militant group and rescue the people taken hostage on Oct. 7.”

Not to put too much into the metaphor here, but in my glory days of yeshiva league high-school basketball I never faced a full-court press with so much breathing room. The only evidence that there is pressure behind closed doors is the insistence by top officials that there is pressure behind closed doors.

How much time will Austin give the Israelis to get this done? “This is Israel’s operation, and I’m not here to dictate timelines or terms,” he said. But rest assured, in private he told the Israelis to be, in the Times’ own wording, “as precise and disciplined as possible as they dismantle Hamas and its infrastructure.”

What is happening here? The answer is that it’s like a movie scene where the protagonist notices he’s being followed but doesn’t want to break his cover and run, so he walks more briskly, which only makes his pursuer walk faster, until the two of them seem to be locked in a powerwalking contest. President Biden is being pursued, but not quite chased, by fellow Democrats who don’t want to crack open a public fight with the president.

“We are deeply concerned by PM Netanyahu’s current military strategy in Gaza,” a stable of national-security-focused congressional Democrats wrote to Biden yesterday. “The mounting civilian death toll and humanitarian crisis are unacceptable and not in line with American interests; nor do they advance the cause of security for our ally Israel… We urge you to continue to use all our leverage to achieve an immediate and significant shift of military strategy and tactics in Gaza.”

Notable among the signatories is Michigan’s Elissa Slotkin, former CIA analyst who is running for the Senate and who has been at great pains to be seen complaining about Biden lately. Democrats are nervous about their party’s younger voters increasingly promoting Hamas propaganda and pushing their elected representatives to do the same. They’re afraid that these useless idiots won’t vote for Slotkin for Senate. Biden is aware that in 13 days we will officially be in an election year, so he can’t simply dismiss these concerns out of hand.

In other words, Biden’s policy stance hasn’t changed and his personal opinion hasn’t changed, but he needs to appear to be listening when Democrats like Elissa Slotkin worry that his support for Israel is going to cost her a Senate seat.

The domestic-politics angle of this becomes clearer when you look abroad. This week, the foreign ministers of Britain and Germany wrote a joint article calling for… well that part’s unclear.

“These are harsh, dangerous times,” wrote David Cameron and Annalena Baerbock. (“It was a dark and stormy night” was taken.) Here’s their point: “Only extremists like Hamas want us stuck in an endless cycle of violence, sacrificing more innocent lives for their fanatical ideology. But our goal cannot simply be an end to fighting today. It must be peace lasting for days, years, generations. We therefore support a ceasefire, but only if it is sustainable.”

I believe a “sustainable ceasefire” is a ceasefire that is made from 100-percent recycled materials. It is certainly not a ceasefire that involves Hamas, which exists only to obliterate ceasefires and promises to continue doing so. Cameron and Baerbock contrast a sustainable ceasefire, which is not on the table at the moment, with humanitarian pauses—temporary breaks in the fighting to get aid in and possible hostages out.

Their joint article achieved its purpose, which was to generate headlines that said Britain and Germany joined calls for a ceasefire, helped along by an unrelated French government statement that actually did so. The result: articles like “UK, Germany and France step up calls for Israel to agree Gaza ceasefire” and “Pressure on Israel mounts as Germany speaks up.”

But of course the article itself was a cleverly worded statement against a ceasefire. Why? Because, according to YouGov, only 9 percent of British respondents believe the government “Should support Israel’s military actions, without calls for any sort of ceasefire.” So David Cameron called for a sort of ceasefire.

To be sure, this awkward dance can’t go on forever. But Israel doesn’t intend for it to. In the meantime, a sharp Western turn against Israel’s war on Hamas has yet to materialize.

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