Politics

Trump’s Remarks on Hezbollah and Netanyahu Prompt Bipartisan Outcry


Former President Donald J. Trump drew scorn from both sides of the political aisle on Thursday for remarks that he made one day earlier criticizing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel and referring to Hezbollah, the Iran-backed militant group, as “very smart.”

During a speech to his supporters in West Palm Beach, Fla., on Wednesday, he weighed in on the Hamas attacks on Israel, the worst experienced by America’s closest Middle East ally in half a century.

Hezbollah, the Lebanese Shiite group, has clashed with Israeli forces in the days after Hamas fighters from Gaza attacked border areas in southern Israel, intensifying concerns that the country could be drawn into a conflict on a second front.

“You know, Hezbollah is very smart,” Mr. Trump said. “They’re all very smart.”

He took swipes at Mr. Netanyahu on the “Brian Kilmeade Show,” a Fox News Radio show, broadcast on Thursday, arguing that intelligence lapses by Israel had left it vulnerable to the sweeping attack, kidnappings and slaughter of civilians leading to the war.

A broad spectrum of political rivals condemned Mr. Trump on Thursday, including the White House and several of his Republican primary opponents.

“Statements like this are dangerous and unhinged,” Andrew Bates, the deputy White House press secretary, said in a statement. “It’s completely lost on us why any American would ever praise an Iran-backed terrorist organization as ‘smart.’ Or have any objection to the United States warning terrorists not to attack Israel.”

While filing paperwork on Thursday to appear on the Republican primary ballot in New Hampshire, Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida, who is running a distant second to Mr. Trump in national polls, also admonished his main rival.

“You’re not going to find me throwing verbal grenades at Israeli leadership,” said Mr. DeSantis, whose campaign shared a clip Wednesday night of Mr. Trump’s Hezbollah remarks on X, the social media platform formerly known as Twitter.

Former Vice President Mike Pence similarly objected to Mr. Trump’s rhetoric, saying that his former boss was sending the wrong message.

Speaking to reporters in New Hampshire, Mr. Burgum said that “smart” was not how he would describe Hezbollah or Hamas.

“I’d call them barbaric,” he said. “I’d call them inhumane. I’d call it unthinkable. But what Hezbollah and Hamas have done, but I don’t think I’d characterize them in any positive fashion — not when you see this incredible ability to conduct the atrocities that most of us would find as unthinkable and unimaginable.”

In an interview on CNN on Thursday, Chris Christie, the former New Jersey governor, told the anchor Wolf Blitzer: “Only a fool would make those kinds of comments. Only a fool would give comments that could give aid and comfort to Israel’s adversary in this situation.”

While campaigning in New Hampshire on Thursday, Nikki Haley criticized Mr. Trump in response to a question from a voter during a town hall. “I don’t want him hitting Netanyahu,” she said, adding: “Who cares what he thinks about Netanyahu? This is not about that. This is about the people of Israel.”

Jazmine Ulloa contributed reporting from Exeter, N.H.



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