By Times of Israel
Heritage Minister Amichai Eliyahu said Sunday that one of Israel’s options in the war against Hamas could be to drop a nuclear bomb on the Gaza Strip, in comments that were quickly disavowed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who also suspended the minister from cabinet meetings.
Eliyahu, a member of National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir’s far-right Otzma Yehudit (Jewish Power) party, was speaking in an answer to a question in a radio interview.
“Your expectation is that tomorrow morning we’d drop what amounts to some kind a nuclear bomb on all of Gaza, flattening them, eliminating everybody there…,” the Radio Kol Berama interviewer said.
“That’s one way,” Eliyahu responded. “The second way is to work out what’s important to them, what scares them, what deters them… They’re not scared of death.”
Eliyahu does not have any connection to the three-member war cabinet directing the war against the Hamas terror group, nor is he part of the broader security cabinet.
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When it was pointed out to the minister that there are some 240 hostages currently held in the Gaza Strip, Eliyahu doubled down.
“I pray and hope for their return, but there is a price to be paid in war,” he said. “Why are the lives of the abductees, whose release I really want, more important than the lives of the soldiers and the people who will be murdered later?”
Eliyahu also voiced objection to allowing any humanitarian aid into Gaza, saying, “we wouldn’t hand the Nazis humanitarian aid,” and charging that “there is no such thing as uninvolved civilians in Gaza.”
Palestinians search through the rubble of a collapsed building looking for survivors following an apparent strike by the Israeli military on Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip on November 4, 2023 (Mahmud HAMS / AFP)
He also backed retaking the Strip and rebuilding the Israeli settlements that existed there before Israel withdrew from the area unilaterally in 2005, and when asked about the fate of the Palestinian population, he said: “They can go to Ireland or deserts; the monsters in Gaza should find a solution by themselves.”
Eliyahu also said the northern part of the Strip has no right to exist, adding that anyone waving a Palestinian or Hamas flag “shouldn’t continue to live on the face of the earth.
Netanyahu was quick to reject Eliyahu’s claim that dropping a nuclear bomb on the Gaza Strip was a possibility.
“Amichai Eliyahu’s words are detached from reality,” Netanyahu said in a statement. “Israel and the IDF are acting in accordance with the highest standards of international law in order to prevent harm to uninvolved people, and we will continue to do that all the way to victory.”
Defense Minister Yoav Gallant also condemned the “baseless and irresponsible” remarks in a post on X, adding he was glad “these are not the people in charge of Israel’s security.”
Opposition Leader Yair Lapid called on Netanyahu to fire Eliyahu, branding his comments “a horrifying and insane remark by an irresponsible minister.”
“He offended the families of the captives [being held in Gaza], offended Israeli society and harmed our international standing,” Lapid said. “The presence of the extremists in the government endangers us and the success of the war goals — defeating Hamas and returning the hostages.
“Netanyahu must fire him this morning,” the opposition leader said.
Israelis attend a rally calling for the release of Israelis held kidnapped by Hamas terrorists in Gaza in Tel Aviv, November 4, 2023. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)
National Unity leader Minister Benny Gantz, a member of the war cabinet, also attacked Eliyahu’s comments.
“Eliyahu’s unnecessary and irresponsible statement is detrimental to the path and values of Israel, causes heavy political damage and, worst of all, adds to the pain of the families of those abducted from their homes,” he wrote on X, the social media site formerly known as Twitter.
MK Mansour Abbas, leader of the Arab Ra’am party, said that Eliyahu was echoing a sentiment expressed by other officials, and expressed concerns that his comments dehumanized Gazans.
“Eliyahu’s words about bombing Gaza with an atomic bomb were heard in different versions on the television screens from other people,” Abbas claimed on X.
“Dehumanization and collective punishment is the way to genocide and war crimes. There will be a day after the war — it is not the end of history and it is not Armageddon,” he wrote. “I am sure, and believe from the bottom of my heart, that there will still be peace and reconciliation between the two peoples.”
Amid the growing outrage, the Prime Minister’s Office announced that Eliyahu was suspended from cabinet meetings indefinitely. It was unclear if he would still be able to participate in phone votes.
Government ministers told the Ynet news site that the suspension was meaningless.
“This is a joke, there barely are any cabinet meetings anyway, and most of the work is being done in rounds of votes by phone,” an unnamed minister was quoted as saying.
A cabinet meeting scheduled for Sunday has been canceled, with no alternative date set.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks at a press conference at the Defense Ministry in Tel Aviv, October 28, 2023. (Dana Kopel/POOL)
Eliyahu later attempted to walk back his assertion, tweeting that “it is clear to all sensible people that the statement about the atom is metaphorical.”
“However, a strong and disproportionate response to terrorism is definitely required, which will clarify to the Nazis and their supporters that terrorism doesn’t pay,” he wrote.
“This is the only formula that democratic states can use to deal with terrorism. At the same time, it is clear that the State of Israel is committed to doing everything possible to return the hostages safe and sound,” Eliyahu wrote.
The far-right minister has a history of incendiary and offensive comments.
Earlier this year he called Bank of Israel governor Amir Yaron a “savage” and said he was causing damage to the State of Israel and should be fired, after Yaron raised the alarm about government’s controversial judicial overhaul program.
In April he accused top security officials of “rebelling” against the coalition.
Eliyahu is the scion of a prominent national-religious family — the grandson of Rabbi Mordechai Eliyahu, a former chief Sephardic rabbi of Israel, and the son of Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu, the rabbi of the northern city of Safed and a leading far-right ideologue.
Eliyahu’s father has been known for controversial statements and rulings on Jewish law, including one that forbade the rental or sale of Jewish-owned property in Safed to Arabs. He has also criticized the Reform movement, the LGBTQ community, and women serving in IDF combat units.
Meanwhile, far-right Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich asserted Saturday that Israel “will control Gaza after the war.”
“I will not invest a shekel in shielding the Gaza border area,” said Smotrich, implying that it will not be necessary after the conclusion of the war.
“The most important thing is that there will be no more Hamas, that the Strip will be under the operational control of the IDF for years, and that we will not return to the same misconceptions,” he told Channel 12. “We will be there, we will rule there and we will maintain security.”
Finance Minister and Head of the Religious Zionist Party Bezalel Smotrich leads a faction meeting at the Knesset, the Israeli parliament in Jerusalem, October 23, 2023. (Oren Ben Hakoon/Flash90)
Israel launched its war against Hamas after the terror group carried out a brutal assault on southern Israel communities, killing some 1,400 people, mostly civilians, and taking over 240 hostages, including small children and the elderly.
In response to the killings, Israel vowed to eradicate the terror group and has since hit thousands of Hamas targets inside the Strip with airstrikes and an ongoing ground operation, saying that it is working to minimize civilian casualties in Gaza.
The Hamas-run health ministry in Gaza said Saturday that more than 9,400 Palestinians have been killed since Hamas sparked war with its murderous assault. Hamas figures cannot be independently confirmed, and the terror group has been accused of artificially inflating the death toll. The figures do not differentiate between terror operatives and civilians nor between those killed in Israeli strikes and those killed by the hundreds of rockets fired by terror groups that have fallen short inside the Strip.
An estimated 800,000 Palestinians have fled to the south from Gaza City and other northern areas following repeated Israeli calls to evacuate, but hundreds of thousands remain in the north, including many who left and later returned. Israel is also carrying out some airstrikes in the south.