(BBC News) In the days immediately after the Hamas attack on Israel, the Republicans seeking the US presidency had focused their criticism on President Joe Biden and what they saw as American weakness and missteps that had paved the way for violence.
That changed on Wednesday night, however, when Donald Trump addressed the topic in a speech near his home in West Palm Beach, Florida.
Now some of Trump’s rivals are condemning the former president in some of the most direct language of this campaign.
During remarks to a crowd of supporters, Trump said Israel had to “straighten it out because they’re fighting, potentially a very big force.”
He called Israeli Defence Minister Yoav Gallant a “jerk” and repeatedly called Hezbollah, the militant Islamist group in Lebanon, “very smart.”
Trump also said that Israel had initially agreed to work with the US on a 2020 drone strike that killed Iranian Major General Qasem Soleimani, but that they backed out at the last minute.
“I’ll never forget that Bibi Netanyahu let us down,” he said. “That was a very terrible thing.”
In a television interview that aired Thursday, he went further in his criticism of the Israeli prime minister, saying Netanyahu was “not very prepared” for the possibility of a Hamas attack.
Trump’s remarks prompted a series of quick and pointed responses from Ron DeSantis, the candidate who once was in a dead heat with the former president but now trails him in most polls by a wide margin.
“Terrorists have murdered at least 1,200 Israelis and 22 Americans and are holding more hostage,” the Florida governor wrote in a social media post, “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.”
A DeSantis campaign spokesperson would later call Trump’s remarks “disturbing and disqualifying.”