Donald Trump spent years making claims like “No President has done more for Israel than I have,” and holding a series of high-profile meetings with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. But at a Wednesday rally in Florida and in comments on Fox News, Trump bitterly criticized Netanyahu, making clear that, like just about everything else, Trump’s focus on Israel was always about his own ego.
Netanyahu “has been hurt very badly because of what’s happened here,” Trump told Fox News personality Brian Kilmeade. “He was not prepared and Israel was not prepared. And under Trump, they wouldn’t have had to be prepared.” Part of that is true: Netanyahu was not prepared, and maybe worse.
At his Florida rally, Trump expanded on the claim that “under Trump, they wouldn’t have had to be prepared,” saying, “If the election wasn’t rigged, there would be nobody even thinking about going into Israel.” This is just ridiculous in a classically Trump way.
But Trump also went further on Netanyahu, not just joining much of the world in noting that Netanyahu is politically damaged by his failure to prevent or be prepared for Saturday’s Hamas attack on Israel, but revisiting past events with a keen sense of personal grievance.
Speaking of the operation to assassinate Iranian military leader Qasem Soleimani, “I’ll never forget that Bibi Netanyahu let us down. That was a very terrible thing, I will say that,” Trump said. Israel has “got to straighten it out,” he went on to say, because “they’re fighting potentially a very big force, they’re fighting potentially Iran.”
Returning to how Netanyahu “let us down” on Soleimani, Trump added, “So we were disappointed by that. Very disappointed. But we did the job ourself. It was absolute precision, magnificent, beautiful job. And then Bibi tried to take credit for it. That wasn’t good. That didn’t make me feel too good. But that’s all right.”
That’s Trump right there. One of his most prominent allies “let us down” and then “tried to take credit,” and that’s something he’s going to rehash publicly when that (former?) ally is struggling. According to MSNBC’s Jonathan Lemire, there may be something else at play as well: “Part of the reason why Trump was critical of Netanyahu the last couple of days, I am told by someone close to the former president, is that Netanyahu had praised President Biden, of course, Trump’s likely rival in 2024, and Trump simply couldn’t stand for that.”
If Trump is upset about Biden being praised, he’s got a lot to be upset about these days.
Trump didn’t stop with criticizing Netanyahu for personal slights or letdowns, though. He also praised Hezbollah, which has been clashing with the Israeli Army in the northern part of the country while Israel fights Hamas in the south, saying the group is “very smart.”
”We don’t comment on 2024,” White House deputy press secretary Andrew Bates tweeted in response, but added: “Calling an Iran-backed terrorist group ‘smart’ – especially at a time like this – is unhinged and sickening.” Trump also drew criticism from his Republican rivals for those comments, with Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis tweeting, “it is absurd that anyone, much less someone running for President, would choose now to attack our friend and ally, Israel, much less praise Hezbollah terrorists as ‘very smart.’” Trump’s former vice president, Mike Pence, was also critical and pointed to similar comments Trump had made about Russian President Vladimir Putin as Russia invaded Ukraine.
Trump wasn’t at all wrong when he said that Netanyahu had been “hurt very badly” because he was “not prepared” for the Hamas attack. But the rest of Trump’s comments give away what is really going on here: Trump believes he’s owed absolute loyalty by anyone he thinks he has ever helped, and he sees Netanyahu as having violated that. To Trump, that is a bigger issue than anything else happening in the world right now.