Israeli minister suspended from govt meetings over Gaza ‘nuclear option’ comment

Published November 5, 2023
A photo of Israeli Heritage Minister Amichay Eliyahu. — Photo courtesy The Jeruslaem Post
A photo of Israeli Heritage Minister Amichay Eliyahu. — Photo courtesy The Jeruslaem Post

An Israeli minister was suspended from government meetings “until further notice” on Sunday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office said, after suggesting dropping a nuclear bomb on Gaza during an interview.

The comments by Heritage Minister Amichay Eliyahu advocating a fierce military response to Hamas’ October 7 surprise attacks even at the cost of the lives of hostages believed to be held in Gaza also drew rebuke from families of the captives.

Eliyahu, an ultranationalist politician part of Netnayahu’s ruling coalition, told Israel’s Kol Barama radio that he was not entirely satisfied with the scale of Israel’s retaliation in the Palestinian territory.

The attacks killed 1,400 people, mostly civilians, Israeli officials say while Israel’s military campaign in Gaza since October 7 has killed 9,770 people, most of them women and children, the Gaza health ministry says.

When the interviewer asked whether the Israeli minister advocated dropping “some kind of atomic bomb” on the Gaza Strip “to kill everyone”, Eliyahu replied: “That’s one option”.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office quickly responded in a statement, describing Eliyahu’s remarks as “disconnected from reality” and adding that Israel was trying to spare “non-combatants” in Gaza.

Netanyahu’s office issued a statement saying that the heritage minister, from a far-right party in the coalition government, was suspended from cabinet meetings “until further notice”.

“Eliyahu’s statements are not based in reality. Israel and the IDF (military) are operating in accordance with the highest standards of international law to avoid harming innocents. We will continue to do so until our victory,” Netanyahu’s office said.

A spokesperson for Hamas said Eliyahu represented “unprecedented criminal Israeli terrorism [that] constitutes a danger to the entire region and the world”.

In a follow-up question about the estimated 240 hostages held in Gaza, Eliyahu said that “in war, we pay a price.” “Why are the lives of the hostages … more important than the lives of the soldiers?” he said.

The Hostages and Missing Persons Families Forum, representing relatives of people taken hostage by Hamas, slammed Eliyahu’s “reckless and cruel” statement.

“International law, along with fundamental principles of human morality and common sense, strictly prohibits the use of mass destruction weapons,” it said in a statement, calling for the release of all the hostages.

Following the outcry over his remarks, Eliyahu said in a post on X, formerly Twitter, that his statement about the atomic bomb was “metaphorical”.

He also said that Israel was “committed to doing everything possible to return the hostages safe and sound”.

Israel has never admitted to having a nuclear bomb.

Outrage over minister’s remarks

Arab League chief Ahmed Aboul Gheit said Eliyahu’s remarks reveal that “Israel possesses nuclear weapons, which is an open secret”.

“But it confirms the truth of the racist view Israelis hold against Palestinians. This is the true face of the occupation government,” he said.

Saudi Arabia criticised the Netanyahu government for not dismissing him.

“Failing to immediately dismiss the minister from the government and simply freezing his membership reflects the height of disdain for all human, moral, religious and legal standards and values of the Israeli government,” the Saudi foreign ministry said in a statement.

Jordan said the minister’s remarks were a “call for genocide and a hate crime” against the Palestinians.

Former prime minister Shehbaz Sharif condemned the Israeli minister’s remarks, saying that this “extremist mindset with access to nuclear power poses a grave danger to global peace”.

The PML-N leader called on the International Atomic Energy Agency to “monitor the Zionist state’s nuclear sites” and called on the world to “respond decisively to this extremism and nuclear madness”.

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