Republican presidential frontrunner Donald Trump found himself fumbling questions over his knowledge of Middle Eastern militant groups and their leaders when quizzed on foreign policy in an interview on Thursday, accusing the interviewer of asking him a “gotcha question.”
The interview with conservative talk show host Hugh Hewitt saw the magnate fail to identify the commanders-in-chief of a number of militant groups, including Hamas, Hezbollah, ISIS and Al-Qaeda.
The billionaire presidential contender displayed a lack of knowledge about the Middle East that a leader of the most powerful nation in the world may be expected to deal with in their tenure in the Oval Office but he assured Hewitt that he would know the difference between the two groups “when it’s appropriate.”
“I will know more about it than you know,” he added, in typical Trump fashion. “And believe me, it won’t take me long. Of course I don’t know them. I’ve never met them. I haven’t been, you know, in a position to meet them. If, if they’re still there, which is unlikely in many cases, but if they’re still there, I will know them better than I know you.”
Trump attempted to brush aside his lack of knowledge about the leadership of some of the world’s most notorious terror organizations by claiming that the leaders would not be in their positions when he ascends to the U.S. presidency.
“I’ll tell you honestly, I think by the time we get to office, they’ll all be changed. They’ll be all gone,” he told Hewitt. “I mean, you know, when you’re asking me about who’s running this, this this, that’s not, that is not… I will be so good at the military, your head will spin.”
So what should the real-estate mogul know about these different militant groups if he was to become president, and who are their leaders?
A Palestinian Sunni Islamist militant group, designated as a terrorist organization by the U.S., EU and Britain, that operates both inside and outside of the Gaza Strip, which it has controlled since 2007 after winning elections in the territory a year before. The movement was founded in 1987 at the onset of the first Palestinian intifada (uprising). Khaled Meshaal is the exiled leader of the group, running its politburo out of the Gulf State of Qatar, which supports Hamas financially. He has led the group since 2004.
Hamas’s political leader within the Gaza Strip is Ismail Haniyeh and the leader of the group’s military wing, the Ezzedine Al-Qassam Brigades, is Mohammed Deif, the notorious strategist behind Gaza’s extensive tunnel network who has eluded at least five Israeli assassination attempts since 2002.
Hamas’s worldview is that it is fighting a “resistance” against the state of Israel, its occupation of Palestinian land after the 1967 Six-Day War and its current blockade on the Gaza Strip, which has been imposed on the coastal enclave’s land, sea and air since 2007. The group has fought three conflicts with Israel in the last six years—in 2009, 2012 and 2014.
Israel, however, views the group’s founding principles differently. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu last year compared the group to ISIS, saying they were both part of the “same poisonous tree” of radical Islam.
A Lebanese Shiite Islamist militant group and political party which operates in Lebanon but also maintains a presence in Syria. Its military wing is known as the Jihad Council. The group is a close ally of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and its operatives have been present in the Syrian section of the Golan Heights, which borders Israel. This is in stark contrast to Hamas, which opposes Assad’s war against Sunni rebels.
The group’s leader, or secretary-general, is Hassan Nasrallah, who has acted as its leader since 1992. The group’s founding was predominantly influenced by Iran and the Islamic Republic’s Ayatollah Khomeini and was a reaction to Israel’s invasion of Lebanon in 1982.
Its focus shifted from ending the Israeli occupation of a strip of territory in southern Lebanon, which it eventually did when Israel withdrew in 2000, to the political arena. While Hamas controls the Gaza Strip, Hezbollah operates as a parliamentary party in Lebanon, with its own radio and TV station. It now holds 12 seats out of 128 in the Lebanese parliament and two ministerial seats in the Lebanese cabinet.
However, the group fought Israel in the 2006 Second Lebanon War, which took place in southern Lebanon, northern Israel and the Golan Heights for 33 days until a ceasefire was brokered. The group continues to carry out sporadic attacks against Israel and the Israeli military has also conducted operations to strike southern Lebanon and assassinate key Hezbollah leaders, such as Imad Mugniyah in the Syrian capital, Damascus, in 2009.
Hezbollah is primarily funded by Tehran, who had previously acted as a key backer of Hamas until a split over their positions on the Syrian civil war. Hamas is now seeking a closer relationship with Sunni heavyweight Saudi Arabia.
While both Hamas and Hezbollah hold political and military wings and find themselves in a constant state of conflict with Israel, the nuanced differences between the groups outlined here should assist Trump with his knowledge of Middle Eastern militant groups when the time is “appropriate.”