Israel’s Heritage Minister Amichai Eliyahu was suspended indefinitely after he said in an interview that dropping a nuclear bomb on the Gaza Strip was “one of the possibilities,” the government announced on Sunday.
“Eliyahu’s statements are not based in reality,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a statement on X.
Israel and its military “are operating in accordance with the highest standards of international law to avoid harming innocents,” the prime minister added.
A member of the ultra-nationalist Otzma Yehudit (Jewish Power) party, Eliyahu earlier on Sunday claimed in a radio interview that since there were “no non-combatants in Gaza,” using an atomic weapon on the Palestinian enclave was “one of the possibilities.”
Eliyahu later sought to rectify his statement, saying it was “clear to all sensible people” that his reference to nuclear weapons had been “metaphorical.”
Opposition leader Yair Lipid has asked for Eliyahu’s immediate removal, denouncing a “shocking and crazy statement by an irresponsible minister.”
Israel, which has one of the most powerful armies in the Middle East, is widely believed to possess nuclear weapons, although it has never publicly conducted nuclear tests.
Netanyahu’s government has been under fire for the failures of Israeli intelligence in preventing the surprise attacks from the Palestinian militant group Hamas that killed more than 1,400 people on Israeli soil on October 7. The government has also been criticized for a lack of support provided to survivors of the attacks.
In retaliation, Israel’s government has ordered a “complete siege” of the Gaza Strip, limiting all access to food, water and fuel in the Palestinian enclave — which is controlled by the Hamas militant group and home to 2.3 million people — for the past month.
It has also launched a ground assault into Gaza and thousands of airstrikes on the enclave, killing more than 9,400 people, according to the Hamas-run heath authorities in Gaza. Israel’s offensive has also led to strikes on several non-military targets, including nearby refugee camps and an ambulance convoy which Israel says was being used by Hamas.
Before the Israel-Hamas war, Prime Minister Netanyahu’s coalition — which includes several far-right parties and has been described as the most right-wing in Israel’s history — faced mounting popular dissent over a controversial judicial reform which triggered mass protests across the country.