Trump says Netanyahu ‘let us down’ before the 2020 airstrike that killed a top Iranian general

The former president pointed to intelligence failures ahead of last weekend’s onslaught, saying Israel had to ‘strengthen themselves up.’ He further criticized the country’s defense minister, calling him ‘this jerk’

Former U.S. President and Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump
Donald Trump waves at the Club 47 USA event in West Palm Beach, Florida, October 11, 2023.SHANNON STAPLETON (REUTERS)

Former President Donald Trump has accused Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of betraying him just before the U.S. killed a top Iranian general in 2020 and is questioning the country’s intelligence prowess as it responds to Hamas’ deadly attack.

Trump’s comments at a West Palm Beach, Florida, rally on Wednesday were quickly denounced by one of Netanyahu’s allies, the White House and by several Republican presidential rivals, including Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis.

Most American leaders, including the Republican presidential contenders, have lined up behind Israel after the Hamas invasion that President Joe Biden said was the deadliest day for Jews since the Holocaust. At least 2,500 people have died on the Israeli and Palestinian sides.

But Trump, the early front-runner for the GOP presidential nomination who has long tried to paint himself as a fierce defender of Israel, offered stark criticism Wednesday night. He told the rally crowd that his prayers were with Israel and again vowed to stand by the country and back efforts to destroy Hamas — before he went on to describe a “bad experience” with Israel’s leaders that he had never shared before.

“Israel was going to do this with us, and it was being planned and working on it for months,” he said about the coordination to kill Gen. Qassem Soleimani, the head of Iran’s Quds Force. “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.” “Nobody’s heard this story before,” Trump said. “They didn’t tell us why.” “I’ll never forget that Bibi Netanyahu let us down,” he said. “We were disappointed by that. Very disappointed,” he said. “But we did the job ourselves, with absolute precision … and then Bibi tried to take credit for it.”

Trump also pointed to intelligence failures ahead of last weekend’s onslaught, which caught Israel by surprise, saying the country had to “strengthen themselves up.” “They’ve got to straighten it out because they’re fighting, potentially, a very big force,” he said. “They’re going to have to step up their game, and the United States is going to have to step up its game.” He further criticized Israel’s defense minister, calling him “this jerk” for warning Hezbollah not to attack Israel from the north.

Netanyahu’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment. But the government’s communications minister, Shlomo Karhi, told Israel’s Channel 13 that it was “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,” Karhi said. Asked if Trump’s comments make it clear that he can’t be relied on, Karhi replied, “Obviously.”

While Trump and Netanyahu were close allies during Trump’s time in office, the former president turned on the embattled Israel leader after he congratulated then-President-elect Joe Biden for winning the 2020 election while Trump was still trying to overturn the results. In interviews for a book about Middle East peace efforts, Trump, according to its author, used an expletive to describe Netanyahu and said he believed the Israeli leader never really wanted to make peace.

Trump’s rivals quickly seized on his new comments. 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,” and criticized Trump for calling Hezbollah “very smart” in his remarks.

White House spokesman Andrew Bates also said on X, “Calling an Iran-backed terrorist group ‘smart’ — especially at a time like this — is unhinged and sickening.” He added, “Why in God’s name would any American do that?”

Trump, in his remarks, suggested that information about the raid could potentially be classified, though it wasn’t immediately clear if that was the case. “They’ll say, ‘Oh, it’s classified information.’ Well, maybe it is, but I don’t think so,” he said. Trump is currently under federal criminal indictment, accused of hoarding classified documents at his Mar-a-Lago club and refusing to return them to the government.

Trump and other Republicans have tried to lay blame on the Biden administration for the Hamas invasion, particularly citing the release of nearly $6 billion in frozen assets to Iran, a supporter of Hamas. Biden administration officials insist that money has not been spent.

The Democratic president’s campaign said Trump has been pushing dangerous misinformation about the crisis in Israel when the countries should stand together. “While Trump continues to lie about his record, President Biden is laser-focused on providing steadfast support for Israel and leading on the global stage,” Biden campaign spokesman Kevin Munoz said.

Trump has long said that he did more to support Israel than any previous president, pointing to his decision to move the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem and to withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal.

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