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Trump sparks backlash over comments calling Hezbollah 'very smart'

Former U.S. President Donald Trump
Former U.S. President Donald Trump | Joe Raedle/Getty Image

Former President Donald Trump is receiving criticism from his Republican rivals for referring to the terrorist organization Hezbollah as “very smart” and talking about how Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu “let us down” in the past as his country reels in the wake of Hamas' terror attacks. 

Trump, currently the frontrunner for the Republican nomination for president in the 2024 presidential election, addressed the aftermath of Hamas’ attacks in Israel during a speech in West Palm Beach, Florida, on Wednesday. He asserted that “national defense people” working for the Biden administration were saying, “Gee, I hope Hezbollah doesn’t attack from the north because that’s the most vulnerable spot.”

The former president recalled reacting to the concerns about a Hezbollah attack by thinking that “Hezbollah’s very smart” and mocked the idea that Biden administration officials would make Israel’s enemies aware of its national security weaknesses. He acknowledged that “the press doesn’t like when [I] say that” as well as when he makes similar characterizations about Chinese President Xi Jinping.

Trump’s characterization of Hezbollah as “very smart” was not the only aspect of his speech that spurred a negative reaction from critics. 

While Trump praised and vowed to stand with Israel during his remarks, he also brought up how “I did have a bad experience with Israel.” According to Trump, “When we took out [terrorist Qasem Soleimani], it was us and Israel working as a group and we knew where he was, we knew how he was coming in, we knew the plane, we knew everything. We worked on it for weeks, for months, actually.

“Israel was going to do this with us and it was being planned and working on it for months and now we had everything all set to go, and the night before it happened, I got a call that Israel will not be participating in this attack,” he added. While the U.S. killed Soleimani on its own, Trump told the crowd, “I’ll never forget that Bibi Netanyahu let us down. That was a very terrible thing.” 

Trump insisted that “Bibi tried to take credit” for the attack that took out Soleimani, adding, “That didn’t make me feel too good.”

Bob Vander Plaats, CEO of the Iowa-based religious advocacy group The FAMiLY Leader, reacted to the former president’s assertions during the speech as “disturbing.”

Vander Plaats took to X to summarize and condemn Trump’s analysis: “The former #POTUS @realDonaldTrump telling the world #Israel let us down while calling out Hezbollah and Hamas, backed by Iran, as very smart. Raping women and butchering children isn’t smart. It’s evil.” 

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, currently Trump’s chief rival for the Republican nomination, weighed in on the former president’s statements about Hezbollah and Israel while campaigning in New Hampshire. “This is a time to be standing with Israel and to be attacking the Prime Minister … just makes no sense,” he said. “To be saying that Hezbollah, talking about how smart they are, just doesn’t make any sense.”

Former Vice President Mike Pence, another candidate for the Republican nomination who served as Trump’s second-in-command for four years, also issued a response to Trump’s speech in an appearance on the radio program “New Hampshire Today” on Thursday: “This is no time for the former president or any other American leader to be sending any message other than ‘America stands with Israel.’”

“Hezbollah are not smart; they’re evil,” Pence proclaimed. The former vice president also expressed disappointment that his former boss called Russian President Vladimir Putin a “genius” for invading Ukraine last year. 

Trump reacted to the backlash his comments received in a statement posted on his campaign website Thursday by defending his administration’s foreign policy record pertaining to Israel: “There was no better friend or ally of Israel than President Donald J. Trump. Under my leadership, the United States stood in complete solidarity with Israel, and as a result, Israel was safe, America was safe, and for the first time in decades, we made historic strides for Peace in the Middle East.”

The former president vowed that “with President Trump back in office, Israel, and everyone else, will be SAFE AGAIN!”

Ryan Foley is a reporter for The Christian Post. He can be reached at: ryan.foley@christianpost.com

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