Donald Trump has been absolutely furious with Benjamin Netanyahu since the Israeli prime minister declined to publicly back his conspiracy-fueled effort to overturn the 2020 election. The Israel-Hamas war that erupted over the weekend has only stoked the former president’s animus toward Netanyahu, and he’s now trying to use the unfolding horror to get even.
In recent days, Trump has had phone calls with various pro-Israel GOP allies and donors who want to know how Trump would handle Israeli-Palestinian matters if reelected, two sources familiar with the matter tell Rolling Stone. Trump has relayed a few ideas he has discussed with policy advisers — including cutting off all aid to Palestinians and encouraging other nations to do the same, as well as capturing and extraditing certain Hamas figures. But during these private conversations, Trump has also spent an inordinate amount of time aggressively trashing Netanyahu.
In a recurring comment Trump has yet to voice publicly, the former president — and former close ally of the Israeli prime minister — has expressed his strong desire for Netanyahu to be gone by the time Trump would potentially be back in office in 2025, the sources recount. Since Hamas attacked Israel on Saturday, Trump has said Netanyahu should be “impeached” by the Israeli Parliament because the assault — which was preceded by an apparently catastrophic intelligence failure on the part of Netanyahu’s government — occurred on his watch. (Israel’s parliament cannot “impeach” a prime minister in the same way Congress can impeach a president in the United States).
Trump has also asked multiple longtime advisers if he should now publicly call for Netanyahu to step down as prime minister. Some confidants and allies have recently recommended that he not do it this week, as the dead are still being counted and a major war seems underway.
The private comments track with Trump’s public speech on Wednesday, in which he criticized Netanyahu and Israeli intelligence while referring to the Iran-backed terrorist group Hezbollah as “smart.” In a meandering monologue, the former president declared himself “the best friend Israel had in the White House by far” but lamented that “he did have a bad experience with Israel.”
Trump told supporters in Palm Beach that he would “never forget that Bibi Netanyahu let us down” when the Israeli prime minister, in Trump’s telling, provided intelligence to help with the killing of Iranian covert operations chief Qassem Soleimani in 2020, before backing out of participation in the operation at the last minute. Trump also criticized Israeli intelligence for failing to anticipate the Hamas assault, saying “they’ve got to straighten it out.”
Many Israelis appear to blame the Netanyahu government for the surprise attack. In a recent poll by Israel’s Dialog Center, 86 percent of Israelis surveyed characterized the assault as a failure of leadership by the Netanyahu government.
But in his own private ranting against Netanyahu, Trump has made it abundantly clear that his fury at Netanyahu is driven more by preexisting personal animus than by the Israeli leader’s performance in office during the Gaza offensive. The former president has derisively compared the “very weak” Netanyahu to the majority of American Jewish voters who support Democratic President Joe Biden, and has assailed Netanyahu’s intelligence and alleged corruption.
Over the past few days, during these conversations that started as focusing on the horrifying situation in Israel, Trump has — naturally — found ways to quickly pivot to Netanyahu’s ultimate betrayal of failing to back Trump’s post-election lies while congratulating Biden on his victory. It’s hard to overstate how much that enraged Trump, and how his distrust and bitterness have persisted even in this moment of crisis. Though Trump has a reputation for profuse vulgarity in private, he typically tries to refrain from publicly telling other world leaders to go “fuck” themselves. Trump, however, made an apparent exception in Netanyahu’s case.
Israeli officials have for the most part ignored Trump’s public comments criticizing Netanyahu Wednesday night, but some have shown flashes or irritation at the speech. Israeli Communications Minister Shlomo Karhi told Israeli reporters 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, Karhi said, can’t be relied on.
Trump’s attempts to contrast his record on Israel comes as President Biden — who has had an at-times tense relationship with Netanyahu — has earned praise from Israelis and even some Republicans for his administration’s response to the crisis.
David Friedman, Trump’s former ambassador to Israel, took to Twitter on Wednesday to say that he was “deeply grateful” for the “moral, tactical, diplomatic and military support that [the Biden administration] has provided Israel over the past few days,” calling it “exceptional.”