Former President Donald J. Trump, who frequently paints himself as the fiercest defender of Israel to ever occupy the White House, on Wednesday criticized Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in a speech in Florida just days after deadly Hamas attacks rocked the country.
Speaking to a crowd of supporters in West Palm Beach, a few miles from his residence at Mar-a-Lago, Mr. Trump related a story he said he had never told about Israel’s role in the killing of Iran’s top security and intelligence commander, Maj. Gen. Qassim Suleimani, by an American drone strike in 2020.
Mr. Trump said that Israel had been working with the United States on a plan for the attack, but that he had received a call shortly beforehand to let him know that Israel would not take part. The United States proceeded anyway.
“But I’ll never forget,” Mr. Trump said. “I’ll never forget that Bibi Netanyahu let us down. That was a very terrible thing.”
He then criticized Israeli intelligence, pointing in part to failures to anticipate and stop Hamas, the Islamic militant group, from executing such a large-scale and devastating attack. “They’ve got to straighten it out,” Mr. Trump said.
At the same time, Mr. Trump, who frequently paints himself as a staunch ally of Israel, vowed that he would “fully support” the country in its war against Hamas.
The attacks were a major focus of Mr. Trump’s remarks in Florida, which is home to a significant number of Jewish voters. As he has recently, Mr. Trump attacked President Biden, blaming him for the assault and repeating a falsehood about U.S. funds to Iran, a longtime backer of Hamas. He also repeated his suggestion that the bloodshed would not have happened if he were president.
But, in a new flourish, Mr. Trump then tied the current conflict to his conspiracy theories and lies about the 2020 election.
“If the election wasn’t rigged,” he said, “there would be nobody even thinking about going into Israel.”
Mr. Trump also appeared to blame the Biden administration for clashes on Israel’s northern border, which the former president attributed to Hezbollah, the powerful Iran-backed militant organization in Lebanon committed to the destruction of the Jewish state. He then repeatedly called Hezbollah “very smart.”
Mr. Trump’s appearance in West Palm Beach marked a bit of a homecoming. He has held a flurry of campaign events in Iowa and New Hampshire, and last week, he traveled to New York to attend a civil fraud trial he faces there.
In Florida, he spoke at a convention center for a meeting hosted by Club 47 USA, which describes itself as the largest pro-Trump club in America and a “corporation formed to support” the former president’s agenda.
The friendly crowd, Mr. Trump said, accounted for his decision to recount the story about the strike against Mr. Suleimani. “Nobody’s heard this story before,” he said. “But I’d like to tell it to Club 47, because you’ve been so loyal.”
Mr. Netanyahu commended Mr. Trump at the time. But some in Israel were more muted, wary that Iran might retaliate against Israel for the American attack.
Mr. Trump has been critical of Mr. Netanyahu before, telling the Axios reporter Barak Ravid that he was particularly incensed after the prime minister congratulated Mr. Biden for his 2020 election victory.
Mr. Trump also criticized Mr. Netanyahu in a Fox News Radio interview that is expected to air on Thursday. In a clip from that interview that aired on television on Wednesday, Mr. Trump said that Mr. Netanyahu “was not prepared and Israel was not prepared.”
He again suggested Israeli intelligence had been deficient, saying, “Thousands of people knew about it and they let this slip by. ”
Mr. Trump’s remarks in Florida drew near-immediate criticism from the state’s governor, Ron DeSantis, his closest rival in the primary.
“Terrorists have murdered at least 1,200 Israelis and 22 Americans and are holding more hostage, so it is absurd that anyone, much less someone running for President, would choose now to attack our friend and ally, Israel, much less praise Hezbollah terrorists as ‘very smart.’” Mr. DeSantis said on X, formerly known as Twitter.
Mr. Trump used his appearance on Wednesday to knock Mr. DeSantis, whom he leads by double-digits in most polls, in his own backyard.
“He didn’t have a lot of political skill, to put it mildly,” Mr. Trump said, adding that Mr. DeSantis was “falling like a very badly injured bird from the sky.”
The event in West Palm Beach began with a panel of right-wing media figures and influencers discussing their experiences with the former president.
Representative Matt Gaetz, one of Mr. Trump’s closest allies in Washington, was slated to speak but instead appeared only briefly at the start of Mr. Trump’s remarks.
Mr. Trump praised Mr. Gaetz, but he did not mention his role in the paralysis currently seizing Capitol Hill.
Mr. Gaetz last week successfully pushed to remove Representative Kevin McCarthy of California as the House’s speaker. The body has been without a leader ever since, which has left it unable to fully conduct regular business.