DeSantis, White House Assail Trump Over Remarks on Israel

Donald Trump is drawing criticism from the White House and Republican presidential rival Ron DeSantis over comments on the conflict in Israel days after the deadly attack by Hamas.

(Bloomberg) — Donald Trump is drawing criticism from the White House and Republican presidential rival Ron DeSantis over comments on the conflict in Israel days after the deadly attack by Hamas.

Trump at a rally in West Palm Beach, Florida, on Wednesday night said Hamas would never have carried out the assault under his watch and condemned the violence that was mostly inflicted on Israeli civilians. 

Yet the former president also criticized Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for not joining him in a 2020 drone strike in Iraq that killed Iranian general Qassem Soleimani and called Hezbollah, the Lebanese Shiite militant group that has been designated as a terrorist organization by the US, “very smart.”

“The night before it happened I get a call that Israel will not be participating in this attack,” Trump said of the drone strike during a rambling commentary. “I will never forget that Bibi Netanyahu let us down.”

DeSantis responded Wednesday night with a post on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter, saying he would “stand with Israel and treat terrorists like the scum that they are” as president. 

DeSantis stepped up his criticism of Trump on Thursday saying it was wrong for the former president to be “attacking” Netanyahu as he dealt with the most serious crisis Israel has faced in decades.

“Now’s not the time to air personal grievances about an Israeli prime minister. Now’s the time to support their right to defend themselves to the hilt,” DeSantis told reporters in New Hampshire after filing his paperwork for the state’s primary. “You may have a personal vendetta or beef with him. But is that really the time to be out there doing that?”

Why Hezbollah Is a Wild Card in New Mideast Fighting: QuickTake

DeSantis has grown more outspokenly critical of Trump as polls have shown him dropping further both nationally and in key early voting states like New Hampshire and South Carolina.

Trump campaign spokesman Steven Cheung rebuffed DeSantis’s critique and said the former president’s words were taken out of context.

“President Trump was clearly pointing out how incompetent Biden and his administration were by telegraphing to the terrorists an area that is susceptible to an attack. Smart does not equal good,” Cheung said.

Trump’s remarks came after President Joe Biden mounted a vigorous defense of Israel and vowed to stand by the Jewish community against a rising tide of antisemitism. Biden on Tuesday condemned the weekend attacks by Hamas and promised military assistance to Israel.

White House spokesman Andrew Bates on Thursday called Trump’s statements “dangerous and unhinged.”

“It’s completely lost on us why any American would ever praise an Iran-backed terrorist organization as ‘smart’,” Bates said in a statement. “This is a time for all of us to stand shoulder to shoulder with Israel against ‘unadulterated evil.’ That’s what the president is doing as commander in chief.”

Earlier: Biden Denounces Efforts to Justify Hamas in Fiery Speech

Trump spent most of his Wednesday speech highlighting his strong support of Israel and condemning the violence against Israeli citizens, while pointing out the apparent intelligence failures before the attacks. He also emphasized his own record of moving the US Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem and promoting the Abraham Accords, bilateral agreements between Israel and the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Morocco and Sudan.

–With assistance from Hadriana Lowenkron.

(Updates to add additional DeSantis comments in paragraphs 6-7)

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