Former US president Donald Trump on Wednesday appeared to mock Israel for failing to anticipate the weekend Hamas onslaught and for not going on the offensive against Hezbollah amid several deadly clashes along its northern border. He also launched personal attacks against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, whom he accused of “letting him down,” and Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, whom he called a “jerk.”
His comments stood in sharp contrast to the full-throated support given to Israel by serving US President Joe Biden and his officials, who have expressed steadfast backing of the country as it reels from the brutal massacres committed by Palestinian terrorists in Gaza border communities over the weekend.
“You talk about the intelligence or you talk about some of the things that went wrong over the last week, they’ve got to straighten it out because they’re fighting potentially a very big force. They’re fighting, potentially, Iran,” the GOP presidential frontrunner said during a campaign rally in West
Iran has long been the main supporter of Hamas, in terms of both funding and supply of weapons, but Israeli and US officials have said that they have not yet found evidence that Iran was directly involved in planning or training for Hamas’s devastating assault on Saturday.
“When they have people saying the wrong things, everything they say is being digested by these people because they’re vicious and they’re smart. And boy, are they vicious because nobody’s ever seen the kind of sight that we’ve seen,” Trump stated.
“They cannot play games,” he continued. “They’ve got to strengthen themselves up.”
Palestinian terrorists rampaged through the south of Israel on Saturday morning, slaughtering some 1,300 people, the vast majority of them civilians, and taking at least 100 captives to Gaza. Some 3,000 were injured.
Gaza’s Hamas-run health ministry said 1,300 in the Palestinian enclave have been killed in retaliatory Israeli strikes. Israel said it is targeting terrorist infrastructure and all areas where Hamas operates or hides and that Israeli forces have killed some 1,500 Hamas terrorists who infiltrated into its territory since Saturday.
The former US commander-in-chief also hailed the Hezbollah terror group, as “very smart” while branding Gallant a “jerk.”
The GOP presidential front-runner said, “Two nights ago, I read all of Biden’s security people [who] said, ‘Gee, I hope Hezbollah doesn’t attack [Israel] from the north because that’s the most vulnerable spot.”
“I said, ‘Wait a minute, Hezbollah is very smart. They’re all very smart. — The press doesn’t like it when I say that. I said that President Xi of China — 1.4 billion people. He controls it with an iron fist. — I said, ‘he’s a very smart man.’ They killed me the next day.”
Turning to Gallant in Israel, Trump said, “They have a national defense minister or somebody saying, ‘I hope Hezbollah doesn’t attack us from the north.’ So the following morning, they attacked… If you listen to this jerk, you would attack from the north because he said, ‘That’s our weak spot.’”
In addition to the onslaught in the south, there have been several deadly clashes on the northern border in recent days, some of them claimed by Palestinian terror groups operating out of Hezbollah-controlled southern Lebanon and others by Hezbollah itself.
“Whoever heard of an official saying on television that they hope the enemy doesn’t attack in a certain area, unless it’s a con job. But in a con job, you’re waiting there ready… but they weren’t ready. They weren’t ready,” Trump said.
“Say what you want, Israel was not ready. This was a big surprise. This was a terrible thing that happened. They weren’t ready. But if you wanted them to attack because you’ve got a million people with guns and you’re gonna blast the hell [out of them], then you do exactly… but they didn’t have that,” he added.
In a statement, Gallant’s office said Trump’s remarks were “far-fetched speculation” and that the minister was confident of the military’s ability to “hurt all our enemies, as it is doing now against Hamas in Gaza.”
Trump made the comments while recalling his administration’s 2020 assassination of Qassem Soleimani, head of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ elite Quds Force.
Trump reiterated his claim that Netanyahu backed out at the last minute from actively taking part in the killing.
“I’ll never forget that Bibi Netanyahu let us down. That was a very terrible thing. We were very disappointed, but we did the job ourselves, and it was absolute precision, magnificent, beautiful job,” he said. “Then Bibi tried to take credit for it. That didn’t make me feel too good. But that’s all right.”
Israeli officials denied that Israel was supposed to take part in the assassination beyond intelligence efforts.
Netanyahu’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment. But communications minister Shlomo Karhi told Israel’s Channel 13 that it is “shameful that a man like that, a former US president, abets propaganda and disseminates things that wound the spirit of Israel’s fighters and its citizens.”
“We don’t have to bother with him and the nonsense he spouts,” Karhi said. Asked if Trump’s comments make it clear that he can’t be relied on, Karhi replied, “Obviously.”
Trump’s rival, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis posted on X, formerly known as Twitter, that “it is absurd that anyone, much less someone running for President, would choose now to attack our friend and ally, Israel.”
The White House fired back at Trump calling his remarks “dangerous and unhinged.”
“It’s completely lost on us why any American would ever praise an Iran-backed terrorist organization as “smart” or have any objection to the United States warning terrorists not to attack Israel,” White House deputy press secretary said in a statement.
“Especially now as Israel is fighting back against one of the worst acts of mass murder in the country’s history. This is a time for all of us to stand shoulder to shoulder with Israel against ‘unadulterated evil.’ That’s what [Biden] is doing as commander in chief,” Bates added.
Trump’s remarks indeed stood in sharp contrast to Biden.
Days earlier, Biden denounced the “sheer evil” of Hamas’s brutal assault, describing the explicit details in an address and drawing parallels to the Holocaust.
“Parents butchered, using their bodies to try to protect their children; stomach-turning reports of babies being killed; entire families slain; young people massacred while attending a musical festival… women raped, assaulted, paraded as trophies,” he recounted with horror.
“There are still so many families desperately waiting to hear the fate of their loved ones. Not knowing if they’re alive or dead or [being held] hostage. Infants in their mother’s arms, grandparents in wheelchairs, Holocaust survivors abducted and held hostage.”
Biden said he had one word — “Don’t” — for any of Israel’s adversaries who might try to get involved, in a clear message to long-term foe Iran, which backs Hamas and Lebanese Hezbollah.
Signs of US support for Israel were seen across the administration, with Secretary of State Antony Blinken traveling there for meetings on Thursday, Biden denouncing antisemitism in America, and the US military moving a second aircraft carrier toward the Mediterranean Sea as part of efforts to prevent the war from spilling over into a more dangerous regional conflict.
It joined the USS Gerald R. Ford, the Navy’s most advanced aircraft carrier, and its strike group which had already arrived in the Eastern Mediterranean. PJC
Times of Israel staff and AP contributed to this report.