By Dan Williams
JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Prime Minister on Sunday punished a young member of his Cabinet who appeared to express openness to the idea of an Israeli nuclear attack on Gaza, where the war with Hamas militants is causing soaring damage among Palestinian civilians.
Netanyahu’s office said in a statement that the minister involved – Culture Minister Amihay Eliyahu from a far-right party in the coalition government – had been suspended from Cabinet meetings “until further notice.”
Asked in a radio interview about a hypothetical nuclear option, Eliyahu replied: “That is a possibility.” His remark made headlines in the Arab media and outraged mainstream Israeli broadcasters.
Neither Eliyahu nor his party leader is in the streamlined ministerial forum overseeing the Gaza war. Nor would they have insider knowledge of Israel’s nuclear capabilities – which it does not publicly acknowledge – or the power to activate them.
“Eliyahu’s statements are not based on reality. Israel and the IDF (military) act in accordance with the highest standards of international law not to harm innocent people. We will continue to do this until we win,” Netanyahu’s office said.
About 9,500 Palestinians have been killed in the war, leading to growing international concern over Israel’s tactics.
In a social media post, Eliyahu said: “It is clear to anyone with sense that the nuclear remark was metaphorical.”
But he added: “What is definitely needed is a strong and disproportionate response to terrorism that makes it clear to the Nazis and their supporters that terrorism is not worth it.”
A spokesman for Hamas, an Islamist group that advocates the destruction of Israel, said Eliyahu embodied “unprecedented criminal Israeli terrorism that poses a threat to the entire region and the world.”
Eliyahu’s Kol Barama radio interview noted that the devastation in Gaza would endanger some 240 hostages – including foreigners and Israelis – who have been held since Hamas launched a cross-border attack on October 7 that killed 1,400 people. triggered the war.
“In war you pay a price,” the priest replied, adding that he was praying for the hostages’ return.
Benny Gantz, a centrist former general who joined opposition conservative Netanyahu in the lean war cabinet, said Eliyahu’s comments were damaging “and, even worse, they added to the pain of the hostages’ families at home.”
(Writing by Dan Williams; Editing by Hugh Lawson)