Five days after Israel was brutally attacked by terrorists who infiltrated Israel’s southern border—slaughtering at least 1,300 people, wounding thousands and taking as many as 150 others hostage—former U.S. President Donald Trump took aim at Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Minister of Defense Yoav Gallant and appeared to praise the Iran-backed Hezbollah terrorist group.
Speaking to fans on Oct. 11 in West Palm Beach, Fla., Trump—who leads 2024 Republican presidential hopefuls by more than 45 percentage points—claimed that Netanyahu did not support the U.S. drone strike that killed Qassem Soleimani, the commander of the Quds Force of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, in Baghdad back in January 2020.
“The State of Israel is a blessing to the world. Our prayers are with them now in this terrible, terrible time,” Trump said. “Under my leadership, we will stand with Israel 100%, and we will not let them fail.”
The former president paused briefly, some 40 minutes into his talk. “Don’t forget. You know. I did have a bad experience with Israel, though, when we took out Soleimani. It was us and Israel working as a group. And we knew where he was. We knew how he was coming in. We knew the plane. We knew everything,” the former president said.
“We worked on it for weeks—for months, actually—but we worked on it for weeks. The night before—I don’t think this has ever been told,” he said before launching into an aside about classified information, during which he said he was being treated unfairly compared to U.S. President Joe Biden when it came to having classified documents outside official presidential residences.
“We took abuse like nobody, and we had to do this because we heard Soleimani was going to be blowing up five of our really big military bases in areas all over the Middle East,” Trump said. “He was a very bad guy. Very smart guy, but very bad guy. He was the leader of their military for a long time.”
“The night before it happened, I got a call that Israel will not be participating in this attack. Nobody has heard this story before,” continued Trump, claiming that Jerusalem gave no reason for the decision. When his generals told him that the United States could proceed on its own, Trump gave the green light, he said.
“I’ll never forget that Bibi Netanyahu let us down. That was a very terrible thing, I will say that. So when I see sometimes the intelligence—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,” Trump said.
“We were disappointed by that. Very disappointed. But we did the job ourself and it was absolute precision—magnificent, beautiful job” the former president said. “Bibi tried to take credit for it,” he claimed, with a laugh. “That didn’t make me feel too good. But that’s all right.”
In the rest of his talk, Trump noted that he exited the 2015 Iran nuclear deal in May 2018 and said he issued the toughest sanctions ever on Iran—as part of his “maximum pressure” campaign—decimated their finances and choked off the money with which Tehran paid “terrorist thugs.”
“Look what happened now,” Trump said. “I was also proud to be the best friend Israel has ever had in the White House by far, and if the election wasn’t rigged, there would be nobody even thinking about going into Israel.”
Trump repeated a story he has often shared about building a $500,000 U.S. embassy in Jerusalem, after he had been quoted a price tag of $2 billion and after asking for an extra $100,000 over the true price tag because $400,000 was too low in his estimation. He also noted that he recognized Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights and helped bring normalization in the Middle East through the 2020 Abraham Accords.
“I fought for Israel like no president in history, but then crooked Joe Biden came along and tossed Israel to the bloodthirsty jihadists. That’s what happened,” he said. “What a difference a president makes.”
“The savage attacks on Israel happened for three reasons. Biden loosened my tough sanctions on Iran and allowed them to sell massive amounts of oil making them $80 billion a year. Congratulations. They were making nothing with us,” he said. “We would have had a deal within one week after the election. They were desperate. They wanted to make a deal. The U.S. then gave Iran just a few weeks ago $6 billion as ransom money. You know that right? Five people. Good deal.”
Trump also claimed that he predicted the Hamas terrorist attacks that took place on Saturday morning—on Shabbat and a Jewish holiday—ahead of time. He denounced “all” of the Biden national-security team members for saying publicly that they hoped Hezbollah didn’t attack Israel from the north “because that’s the most vulnerable spot.”
“Hezbollah is very smart. They’re all very smart,” Trump said, before turning to Gallant. “They have a national defense minister, somebody, saying, ‘I hope Hezbollah doesn’t attack us from the north.’ So the following morning, they attacked. They might not have been doing it, but if you listen to this jerk, you would attack from the north, because he said that’s our weak spot. Whoever heard of officials saying on television that they don’t hope the enemy doesn’t attack in a certain area?”
‘Wound the spirit of Israel’s fighters and citizens’
Fla. Gov Ron DeSantis, who is running against Trump for the Republican nomination, responded to the former president’s comments after he filed his candidacy paperwork at the statehouse in New Hampshire.
“Now’s not the time to be doing, like what Donald Trump did, attacking Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu, attacking Israel’s defense minister, saying somehow that Hezbollah were very smart,” he said. “We need to all be on the same page. Now’s not the time to air personal grievances about an Israeli prime minister. Now’s the time to support their right to defend themselves to the hilt.”
“After Hamas slaughters hundreds of Jewish families, and Israel confronts an unprecedented security crisis, Donald Trump attacks the Israeli government and praises Hezbollah terrorists,” wrote Liz Cheney, a former Republican congresswoman from Wyoming. “Are Republicans really going to nominate this dangerous man to be president of the United States?”
Shlomo Karhi, the Israeli communications minister, told Israeli news that it is “shameful that a man like that, a former U.S. 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,” the minister said.
Eugene Kontorovich, a prominent law professor at George Mason University and director of its Center for the Middle East and International Law, wrote: “Even Netanyahu’s greatest political opponents aren’t picking political beefs with him during the war, but Trump could not resist. He is not qualified to be a Republican presidential candidate. When Jews are getting genocided, you don’t tell them how they mismanaged their affairs.”
Arsen Ostrovsky, CEO of the International Legal Forum, also had harsh criticism of Trump. “Deeply saddening—and infuriating—to see this speech from Trump, especially as Israel is grieving and in our greatest moment of need,” he wrote. “Not the words of a friend. Contrast to the unwavering and dignified solidarity of President Biden.”