Trump backpedals Netanyahu criticism after angry reaction to Israel remarks

Campaign appears to recogise need for damage control after backlash to comments at event in West Palm Beach on Wednesday

Oliver O'Connell
New York
Friday 13 October 2023 16:26 EDT

Trump claims ‘vicious’ Israel-Hamas conflict ‘wouldn’t happen’ if he was president

Donald Trump appears to be backpedalling his criticism of Benjamin Netanyahu following the attack on Israel after an angry reaction to his remarks at an event in Florida on Wednesday.

Just days after the sudden escalation of the conflict between Hamas and Israel resulted in thousands of deaths and injuries, the former president accused the Israeli Prime Minister of being unprepared and recalled he had allegedly failed to stand with the US during the latter part of his presidency.

He also called Lebanon-based militant group Hezbollah “very smart”, further infuriating the White House, Israeli officials and his rivals for the Republican Party presidential nomination.

Mr Trump’s pledge of unwavering support for Israel earlier in the speech was drowned out by the pointed criticism of Mr Netanyahu and other his remarks — and the resulting furore.

Former Vice President Mike Pence called his one-time running mate “reckless” and said: “To speak in a critical way about Prime Minister Netanyahu, to refer to the terrorist organization Hezbollah as ‘very smart,’ I think was incomprehensible.”

Appearing to go into damage control on Thursday, the Trump 2024 campaign released a statement from the former president.

“There was no better friend or ally of Israel than President Donald J Trump,” the news release begins. “Under my leadership, the United States stood in complete solidarity with Israel, and as a result, Israel was safe, America was safe, and for the first time in decades, we made historic strides for Peace in the Middle East.”

This was followed up by a list of Mr Trump’s “historic accomplishments” in the Middle East during his presidency.

On Friday, in between posting favourable poll numbers and articles, the former president included a couple of angry screeds blaming President Joe Biden for the attack on Israel, before what could be seen as a quiet attempt at rapprochement with the Israeli prime minister, even using his nickname “Bibi”.

Mr Trump wrote simply on Truth Social: “#IStandWithIsrael #IStandWithBibi.”

He also found time to praise the Israeli Defence Force, writing: “I have always been impressed by the skill and determination of the Israeli Defence Forces. As they defend their Nation against ruthless terrorists, I want to wish every soldier the best of luck. May you return home safely to your families, and may God bless you all!”

NBC News reported that in the aftermath of the attacks on Israel, there had been no outreach from the former president to Mr Netanyahu, only the personal broadsides against the leader of the US ally.

As to why Mr Trump reacted this way, a former Trump adviser told the network: “He’s pissed off because Bibi praised Biden and the Biden White House for being supportive.”

Hostility toward the Israeli leader dates back to the final year of the Trump presidency as the former president said in Palm Beach on Wednesday night when he accused Mr Netanyahu of failing to stand with the US as it prepared to strike a top Iranian general.

“Israel was going to do this with us, and it was being planned and working on it for months,” he said. “We had everything all set to go, and the night before it happened, I got a call that Israel will not be participating in this attack.

“I’ll never forget that Bibi Netanyahu let us down. That was a very terrible thing,” Mr Trump said. “And then Bibi tried to take credit for it. That didn’t make me feel too good.”

Perhaps worse than that in the former president’s mind, Mr Netanyahu acknowledged that he had lost the 2020 election to Mr Biden.

Mr Trump has also continued to claim that the attack on Israel would not have happened if he were still president.

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