(JTA) — Former president Donald Trump touted himself as “the best friend Israel has ever had” while criticizing Israel’s leadership during a speech in Florida on Wednesday night in response to Hamas’ attack on Israel.
Trump also praised Hezbollah as “very smart” and suggested that if he were still president of the United States, Saturday’s attack would not have happened.
“If the election wasn’t rigged there would be nobody even thinking about going into Israel,” he said, alluding to his false claim that he was the rightful winner of the 2020 presidential election. He was speaking at a rally held by Club 47 USA, a group formed to support his 2024 presidential bid.
Some of Trump’s criticism gave voice to concerns that many Israelis have also expressed since the surprise attack that resulted in thousands of the country’s citizens killed, wounded and taken captive.
“Say what you want, Israel was not ready. This was a big surprise. This was a terrible thing that happened. They weren’t ready,” he said.
But he signaled that his criticism was driven in part by resentment about Israel’s role in the January 2020 strike in which the United States killed top Iranian general Qassem Soleimani, who controlled an Iranian force that has ties with Hamas and Hezbollah.
Israelis have confirmed that they contributed intelligence to the planning of the raid. But Trump’s retelling this week — he shared the story on a podcast earlier — suggested that they had considered and eschewed additional involvement. He said he remained disappointed.
“I will never forget that Bibi Netanyahu let us down,” he said. “That was a very terrible thing.”
Speaking about Israel’s future as it faces threats on multiple fronts, he said Israeli leaders would need to do a better job.
“They cannot play games,” he continued, adding, “They’ve got to strengthen themselves up.”
Trump’s comments drew criticism from at least one of his fellow Republican candidates for president, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis. Trump is has a commanding lead in the polls among a crowded pack of Republican contenders to unseat President Joe Biden, whom Trump criticized during his speech as inviting “chaos and terror.”
Biden has responded to the attack on Israel by vowing support, providing military aid, condemning Hamas as delivering “pure, unadulterated evil” and deploying U.S. aircraft carriers to the region as a deterrent against other enemies.