Trump's criticism of Israel runs counter to the Republican Party and sows seeds of uncertainty

Former President Trump's increasing criticism of Israel's war against Hamas in Gaza marks a stark break from GOP talking points supporting Israel's right to self-defense.

Trump's allies downplayed the interview he gave with Israeli journalists last week, saying his strong support for Israel would continue during a potential second term.

But his comments in recent days underscore Trump's ambiguous positions on some of the major national security issues he will face if he returns to the White House.

John Bolton, who served for 17 months as national security adviser in the Trump White House, told The Hill that the former president's position on Israel will depend largely on the environment he inherits and what best serves his interests.

“Basically, Trump has no national security policy,” Bolton said, describing the former president’s approach as “ad hoc.”

“He sees things primarily through the prism of: ‘Is this going to benefit Donald Trump?’” Bolton added.

Trump criticized Israel's destruction of Gaza during an interview with Israeli journalists last week, and he repeated some of those criticisms on Thursday in an interview with conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt.

“Israel is completely losing the PR war,” Trump told Hewitt, criticizing images being broadcast around the world showing massive destruction in Gaza.

“You've got to get it over with, you've got to get back to normal. “I'm not sure I like the way they're doing it, because you've got to win,” Trump said, without directly answering whether he was “100 percent with Israel.”

In an interview with the newspaper “Israel Hayom” last week, he said that Israel made a “very big mistake” with the bombings in Gaza.

Trump added: “Israel has to get better about promotion and public relations because right now it is in shambles.” “I think they're being hurt badly, in terms of public relations.”

Trump has criticized Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the past. “Fuck him,” Trump said of Netanyahu during a 2021 interview with Axios' Barak Ravid after the Israeli leader acknowledged President Biden's victory in the 2020 election.

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He also attacked Netanyahu immediately after the October 7 attacks — criticizing the Israeli leader for being unprepared for a Hamas attack and exploiting a 2020 complaint filed by Israel. I backed away from Joining the United States in a strike that killed a top Iranian general.

“I will never forget that Bibi Netanyahu let us down. “That was a very terrible thing,” Trump told a group of supporters days after October 7, as Israel reeled with a death toll of more than 1,100 people.

But a former senior Trump administration official said the former president's recent comments did not signal a break from the policies of his first term, which were generally a full endorsement of Netanyahu's agenda.

“The former president remains favorably disposed toward Israel and the nature of the strategic alliance. “I don’t think this is going anywhere,” a former senior Trump administration official said.

Hill reached out to the Trump campaign to comment on his policies toward Israel and the Gaza war.

Sam Markstein, national political director for the Republican Jewish Coalition, said the reaction to Trump's criticism of Israel was overblown.

He added: “The controversy is not really a controversy. There is no 'there there' in the sense that all the president was saying – in our opinion – is that Israel needs time and space to defeat Hamas and rescue the hostages.” He said. “That's the bottom line of the comment from our perspective, trying to turn it into something that has no benefit in the conversation.”

Trump has only periodically commented on Israel's war on Hamas since it began nearly six months ago — mostly when asked about it in interviews. It gave a mixed message, often focusing the impact of the war on domestic politics.

Trump said that Israel must “end the problem” in Gaza, indicating his support for Israel's use of force. He also criticized Jews who support Democrats, claiming that they “hate everything about Israel, and they should be ashamed of themselves because Israel will be destroyed.”

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Supporters of Israel on both sides of the aisle generally pursue a policy of bipartisanship, to keep US support for Israel strong across administrations and changes of power in Congress.

When asked if Trump's comments threatened that bipartisanship, Markstein framed the former president's remarks as intended to motivate Jewish Democrats to respond to criticism of their party.

“I think Trump's comments were the bottom line: 'How can Jewish Democrats not be angrier about what's going on with their silence and their votes?'” And that, I think, was the top line. “How can they not be angrier about what's going on?” he said. “That's in his Trumpian way, but I think that's the point.”

He continued: “Bipartisanship in Israel is always an important piece of the puzzle. …We've been encouraging the Democratic side to watch its side for years.

President Biden has faced growing frustration from progressives over his continued support for Israel, despite his growing frustration with civilian deaths and starvation in Gaza. That tension was exacerbated this week by an Israeli raid that killed seven aid workers at the US-based World Central Kitchen.

Some moderate Democrats have called on Biden to condition Israel's future aide on reducing threats against civilians, while Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) said Thursday that she would seek to block the planned sale of dozens of F-15 fighter jets to Israel. Israel because of its brutality in Gaza.

Trump has offered few details about how he would have handled the conflict had he been in office, other than repeatedly claiming that the Hamas attacks would not have happened if he were still president, citing his administration's intense pressure campaign on Iran.

Markstein said a potential second Trump administration would focus on isolating Iran and its proxies in Lebanon, Syria, Iraq and Yemen, who are waging proxy battles against Israel and US forces in the region.

“Blocking the road to Iran [reinstituting] “Maximum pressure, stopping this policy of weakness and appeasement is a key piece of the whole puzzle,” Markstein said.

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“If you cut off the head of the snake, terrorism and activities like October 7 would be much less likely. I think that's a really important main line.”

“The Abraham Accords 2.0 should be a priority,” Markstein added, referring to efforts by the Trump administration, and continued by the Biden administration, to strengthen relations between Israel and Saudi Arabia.

New York times I mentioned that on Wednesday Trump recently had a conversation with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

Crown Prince Mohammed called on Israel to stop its war in Gaza, with the aim of securing a major deal that includes controversial US security commitments in exchange for opening relations with Israel.

The Biden administration is seeking a multi-layered agreement with Saudi Arabia and Israel aimed at ending Israel's war against Hamas and establishing a Palestinian state, but this is fraught with pitfalls.

David Friedman, the US ambassador to Israel under Trump, has drafted a proposal for Israel to demand full sovereignty over the West Bank, according to New York timesWhich would effectively end any hopes for a two-state solution.

Trump's ability to effect any major changes in Middle East policy may depend largely on the balance of power in Congress — as well as on who is in charge of the portfolio within his administration.

“Personnel is policy. You have to look at who is joining the administration, and who their key advisors are,” the former senior Trump administration official said.

Many of the individuals who are likely to focus on Israel and the Middle East in the second administration have a strong record of allying with Israel on security matters.

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