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Exclusive: Trump Hits Netanyahu on Oct. 7; Says Other Israeli Leaders ‘Could Do a Good Job’

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by Brian Bennett/Washington and Eric Cortellessa, Palm Beach, Fla.

Read our full cover story on Donald Trump here. You can also read the transcript of the interviews here and a full fact check here.

Donald Trump thinks that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been “rightfully” criticized for failing to stop Hamas’s murder of Israeli civilians on Oct. 7 and says there are “some very good people” who could take Netanyahu’s job.

In a wide-ranging interview with TIME, Trump was sharply critical of Netanyahu, a close ally during the former President's term. The Israeli prime minister’s support inside Israel has sagged in recent months, as Israeli voters demand answers for how Israeli intelligence and military forces missed Hamas’ preparations for a brazen attack that killed nearly 1,200 people and took more than 200 hostages back into Gaza.

“Bibi Netanyahu rightfully has been criticized for what took place on Oct. 7,” Trump says, speaking to TIME on April 12 at his Mar-a-Lago club in Palm Beach, Fla.

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Polling in Israel shows Netanyahu trailing his main political rival, retired army general Benny Gantz. Gantz, who is a member of Netanyahu’s war cabinet, has called for elections in September. That’s left Netanyahu struggling to shore up public support to stay in office. Trump has also turned on Netanyahu. 

“Oct. 7 should have never happened,” Trump said. “Everything was there to stop that. And a lot of people knew about it, you know, thousands and thousands of people knew about it, but Israel didn’t know about it, and I think he’s being blamed for that very strongly.”

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Trump once touted his close relationship with Netanyahu, who is Israel’s longest serving Prime Minister. When Trump was president, he followed through on many of Netanyahu’s priorities. Trump took the U.S. out of the Iran nuclear deal, recognized the Golan Heights as part of Israel, and moved the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

But the relationship soured when Netanyahu congratulated Biden on winning the 2020 election and put out a video address marking Biden’s inauguration. Trump, who continues to falsely deny that Biden was the legitimate victor, was reportedly frustrated that Netanyahu didn’t show him more loyalty.

In the interview at Mar-a-Lago, Trump complained about Israel dropping out of the U.S.-led 2020 strike in Iraq that killed the top Iranian general Qasem Soleimani. “I had a bad experience with Bibi,” Trump tells TIME. “And I was not happy about that. That was something I never forgot. And it showed me something.”

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Asked if he thought it was time for Netanyahu to leave power and whether he could work better with Gantz, Trump demurs. “I think Benny Gantz is good, but I’m not prepared to say that," Trump said. "I haven’t spoken to him about it. But you have some very good people that I've gotten to know in Israel that could do a good job.”

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