'I had a bad experience with Bibi'

Trump says Netanyahu has ‘rightfully been criticized’ for October 7 failure

In Time magazine interview, former US president and current GOP candidate says Hamas attack ‘should never have happened,’ pledges to ‘protect Israel’ if reelected

Lazar Berman is The Times of Israel's diplomatic reporter

In this March 25, 2019, photo, then-US president Donald Trump (left) smiles at Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu after signing a proclamation recognizing the Golan Heights as part of Israel, in the Diplomatic Reception Room at the White House in Washington. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)
In this March 25, 2019, photo, then-US president Donald Trump (left) smiles at Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu after signing a proclamation recognizing the Golan Heights as part of Israel, in the Diplomatic Reception Room at the White House in Washington. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

In a wide-ranging interview, former United States president and current Republican contender Donald Trump expressed pointed criticism for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and for Israel’s war leadership, while pledging to “protect Israel” if reelected in November.

October 7 “happened on his watch,” Trump told Time magazine of Netanyahu, adding that the prime minister has “rightfully been criticized” for failing to prevent the massive Hamas attack.

“They have the most sophisticated equipment,” Trump said of Israel. “They had — everything was there to stop that. And a lot of people knew about it, you know, thousands and thousands of people knew about it, but Israel didn’t know about it, and I think he’s being blamed for that very strongly, being blamed.”

The attack “should have never happened,” said Trump.

The former US president has been critical of Israel and Netanyahu since he left office, including in the aftermath of the Hamas massacre. At an October rally, Trump hailed the Hezbollah terror group as “very smart,” while branding Defense Minister Yoav Gallant a “jerk.”

He also told the crowd in Florida that Netanyahu had “let us down” before the US killed a top Iranian general, Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps leader Qassam Soleimani, in a January 2020 airstrike.

Mourners carry mock coffins with images of then-US president Donald Trump and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu pasted on them as they gather to pay homage to slain Iranian military commander Qassem Soleimani, Iraqi paramilitary chief Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis and other targets of a US attack, in the capital Tehran on January 6, 2020. (Atta Kenare/AFP)

The comments drew widespread condemnation from the White House as well as Trump’s GOP rivals, and he ended up walking them back.

While Trump and Netanyahu worked together closely during the former’s presidency, Trump responded with fury after the prime minister congratulated then-president-elect Biden for winning the 2020 US election while Trump was still trying to overturn the results. In interviews for a book about his Middle East peace efforts, Trump, according to its author, used an expletive to describe the embattled prime minister — “Fuck him,” he reportedly said — and accused Netanyahu of disloyalty.

In his Time interview, Trump returned to the Soleimani killing, saying that he had a “bad experience” with Netanyahu when he dropped out of the US operation.

“All of a sudden, we were told that Israel was not doing it. And I was not happy about that. That was something I never forgot. And it showed me something.”

National Unity chair Benny Gantz gives a video statement on April 3, 2024. (Screen capture/X)

Asked about war cabinet minister and presumptive Netanyahu challenger Benny Gantz, Trump called him “good,” but wouldn’t say that he would prefer to work with him over Netanyahu.

“I haven’t spoken to him about it. But you have some very good people that I’ve gotten to know in Israel that could do a good job,” he said.

October 7 wouldn’t have happened if he was in office, Trump claimed. “It would have never happened. You wouldn’t have had — Hamas had no money.”

“We had no terror… and we got rid of ISIS 100 percent. Now they’re starting to come back.”

Then-US president Donald Trump holds up a map detailing territory losses by the Islamic State in Syria as he speaks following a tour of the Lima Army Tank Plant at Joint Systems Manufacturing in Lima, Ohio, March 20, 2019. (Saul Loeb/AFP)

During the Trump presidency, a US-led coalition drove the Islamic State out of territory it had captured in Iraq and Syria. That campaign had begun under the Barack Obama administration.

Trump also ordered the assassination of ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi in 2019.

Turning to the remaining Israeli hostages in Gaza, Trump surmised to Time without offering evidence that “you have very few hostages left.”

“I don’t believe these people are able or even wanting to take care of people as negotiations,” he said, without explaining whether he was referring to Israeli or Hamas negotiators.

“I think the hostages are going to be far fewer than people think, which is a very sad thing.”

Families of Israelis held hostage by Hamas terrorists in Gaza call for a deal for the release of the hostages, at ‘Hostages Square’ in Tel Aviv, April 27, 2024. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

Israel estimates that 129 hostages remain in Gaza — not all of them alive — after 105 civilians were released from Hamas captivity during a weeklong truce in late November. Four hostages were released prior to that, and three were rescued by troops. The bodies of eight hostages have also been recovered, and three hostages were mistakenly killed by the military.

The Israel Defense Forces has confirmed the deaths of 34 of those still held by Hamas, citing new intelligence and findings obtained by troops operating in Gaza. One more person has been listed as missing since October 7, and their fate is still unknown.

Trump also said that Israel has done public relations “very badly.”

“I don’t think that the Israel Defense Fund [sic] or any other group should be sending out pictures every night of buildings falling down and being bombed with possibly people in those buildings every single night, which is what they do,” said the 77-year-old business mogul.

IDF footage of a strike on central Gaza, March 6, 2024. (Screen capture)

Trump argued that a two-state solution is now “much tougher to get,” and that fewer people back the idea.

He also cited the way Palestinian youth are educated: “Children grow up and they’re taught to hate Jewish people at a level that nobody thought was possible.”

Trump insisted that the Israeli public supports him overwhelmingly.

“There’s been no president that’s done what I’ve done in Israel,” Trump claimed. “And it’s interesting. The people of Israel appreciate it. I have like a 98 percent — I have the highest approval numbers.”

“I have been very loyal to Israel, more loyal than any other president,” he boasted. “I’ve done more for Israel than any other president. Yeah, I will protect Israel.”

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