Cultural Heritage Minister Amichai Eliyahu from a far-right party in the coalition government has expressed his readiness to support the idea of Israel carrying out a nuclear strike on the Gaza Strip, where the war against Hamas is causing increasing casualties among Palestinian civilians, Reuters reported.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu punished the member of his cabinet. Netanyahu’s office released a statement saying he had been suspended from cabinet meetings “until further notice.”
Eliyahu was asked in a radio interview about the hypothetical possibility of a nuclear attack. “That’s one way,” he replied. His comment was published in Arab media, scandalized the mainstream Israeli media and was described as “unacceptable” by a US representative.
Neither Eliyahu nor his party leader is part of the small circle of ministers who are leading the war in Gaza, Reuters points out. Nor could they have inside information about Israel’s nuclear capabilities — which it does not publicly acknowledge — or the authority to activate them.
“Eliyahu’s statements are not based on reality. Israel and the Israel Defense Forces are acting in accordance with the highest standards of international law to avoid harming innocent people. We will continue to do so until we win.” , Netanyahu’s office said.
About 9,500 Palestinians have been killed during the war, prompting growing international concern about Israel’s tactics, Reuters noted. The crisis prompted another emergency visit to the Middle East by US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken this weekend.
“Obviously this was a reprehensible statement and the prime minister made it very clear that he (Eliyahu) was not speaking on behalf of the government,” a senior US State Department official said.
Eliyahu said in his social media post: “It is clear to anyone in their right mind that the remark about nuclear weapons was a metaphor.” But he added: “There is definitely a need for a strong and disproportionate response to terrorism that will make it clear to the Nazis and their supporters that terrorism is not worth it.”
A spokesman for the Islamist group Hamas, which calls for Israel’s destruction, said Eliyahu was a representative of “unprecedented criminal Israeli terrorism (which) poses a danger to the entire region and the world.”
Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs condemned the Israeli minister’s statement. The department said in a statement that Eliyahu’s comments demonstrated the extent to which “extremism and cruelty” had spread among members of the Israeli government.