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What’s behind Trump’s lashing out at Netanyahu after Hamas’ attack on Israel

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What’s behind Trump’s lashing out at Netanyahu after Hamas’ attack on Israel

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WASHINGTON — Irate in the wake of a brutal assault by Hamas fighters that has pushed Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Joe Biden together, Donald Trump is lashing out with pointed criticism of Netanyahu and his government. 

An adviser to Netanyahu said there had been no outreach by Trump in the wake of the attacks. Instead, Trump has leveled repeated broadsides at the leader of a close U.S. ally in remarks on the campaign trail as he seeks a return to the White House.

“He’s pissed off because Bibi praised Biden and the Biden White House for being supportive,” said a former Trump adviser, referring to Netanyahu by his nickname.

Perhaps most bruising for Trump is the reminder of how Netanyahu left him reeling after the 2020 election by acknowledging his loss, fraying a once-vaunted relationship that stretched back decades and includes close family ties. 

After he pledged his unwavering support for Israel in remarks at his club in Palm Beach, Florida, this week, Trump accused Netanyahu of failing to stand with the U.S. 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,” Trump said in remarks at his Mar-a-Lago club Wednesday. “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,” Trump said. “And then Bibi tried to take credit for it. That didn’t make me feel too good.”

Trump’s campaign did not respond to a request for comment for this article. Israeli Communications Minister Shlomo Karhi criticized Trump’s remarks, telling 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.”

Trump’s public criticism is a departure from when, still in the White House, he lavished praise on Netanyahu and worked to bolster him. 

Both leaders have weathered decades of political and personal strife, surviving repeated crises that have threatened to derail them. Netanyahu returned to power this year after having been charged in a series of criminal scandals that threatened him with prison time, a parallel that some who know Trump say is not lost on him. 

“He looked at Bibi like ‘they tried to take him down,’ and he bounced back,” a former Trump adviser said.

In a nod to the federal charges he faces alleging he mishandled classified secrets, Trump, the front-runner for the Republican presidential nomination, quipped to the crowd Wednesday that he could face censure for sharing details of the plot to strike Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani. “They’ll say, oh, it’s classified information,” he said.

For days, Trump has sounded off about the attacks, swiped at Biden and grown more vocal in his public jabs at Netanyahu.

“When I see Bibi Netanyahu come and he tries to talk them into doing something, they never do it,” Trump told an audience in Wolfeboro, New Hampshire, on Monday after having riffed for nearly an hour on his legal troubles, his political foes and the threat of a third world war and wondered aloud at one point, “Nobody’s in a hurry, right?” before he finally broached in full the massacre by Hamas over the weekend. 

On Wednesday, Trump also lashed out at Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, calling him a “jerk.” 

As the scale of the attacks came into view over the weekend, Trump’s campaign rebranded his remarks to supporters in Iowa and New Hampshire to focus on Israel. Yet he brought up the crisis only fleetingly, taking an early opportunity Monday to swipe at Netanyahu, who he said had lost purchase with the U.S. since he left office. 

Trump has long sought to emphasize his appeal to Jewish Americans and has complained when he feels he has not been recognized sufficiently. Even after having left office, Trump has maintained he has done more for Israel and the Middle East than any other U.S. president, holding up the historic peace agreements he forged with Arab nations.

More recently, Trump’s former campaign manager Brad Parscale, who parted with him under fraught circumstances in 2020, has advised Netanyahu, Parscale told NBC News. Parscale has twice traveled to Israel in recent months, and even into Gaza, he said.

And even as Trump has sought to tout his support for Israel, he has also faced criticism for not condemning his supporters who have expressed openly antisemitic views, including his decision to meet with Nick Fuentes and his “good people on both sides” response to the 2017 “Unite the Right” march in Charlottesville, Virginia, that included neo-Nazis.

Trump’s latest broadsides reveal how he kept frictions with Netanyahu hidden while he was in the White House, working instead to close any daylight between them.

The frustrations began to surface as Trump reckoned with the outcome of the 2020 presidential election. Netanyahu “pissed him off for embracing Biden so fast, or at least how Trump perceived fast,” a longtime Trump ally said. (Netanyahu congratulated Biden the day after the election was called in his favor.)

Still, this person suggested Netanyahu may face pressure to bridge ties again with Trump, as he leads the Republican field. “There are going to be a lot of intermediaries that are probably saying, ‘Yes, Bibi needs to make the ask’” to reconnect, this person said. 

Trump chafed at a video in which Netanyahu congratulated Biden after he won the 2020 election. “He was very early — like, earlier than most. I haven’t spoken to him since. F–k him,” Trump told Axios reporter Barak Ravid, referring to Netanyahu.

Trump appeared to view the moment as an affront to his loyalty. According to Ravid, Trump has credited his decision to recognize the Golan Heights as part of Israel with helping Netanyahu politically at a crucial moment. 

Trump was not yet under indictment at the time of the interview, but Ravid said he showed a pronounced interest in Netanyahu’s legal troubles, though he never raised them with Netanyahu.

Today, Netanyahu faces considerable headwinds at home as Israelis heap blame on him for the surprise attack. An adviser to Netanyahu speculated that Biden “is the most loved person in Israel” after he delivered deeply emotive remarks to condemn Hamas’ violence as “an act of sheer evil.”

Even Trump’s supporters note Biden’s unambiguous support of Israel in the days since the attacks.

“I was very pleasantly surprised by Biden’s speech and thought it was important and well-said,” said Marc Goldman, a Trump donor and board member of the Republican Jewish Coalition. “On the other hand, nobody did more than Trump for Israel.”

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