Netanyahu Suspends Israeli Minister Who Said Dropping a Nuclear Bomb on Gaza Was an Option


Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel took the highly unusual step on Sunday of suspending a far-right minister from his government, after the minister said that dropping a nuclear bomb on Gaza and killing everyone there was “one way” of dealing with the threat from Hamas.

Mr. Netanyahu’s swift action came amid an immediate and broad outcry over the comments made on Sunday morning by Amichay Eliyahu, the minister of heritage from the ultranationalist Jewish Power party. In his remarks, made to a Hebrew radio station, Mr. Eliyahu also said that there was no such thing as noncombatants in Gaza.

While the Jewish Power Party is a member of Mr. Netanyahu’s coalition government, Mr. Eliyahu is not a member of the war cabinet prosecuting Israel’s war on Hamas in Gaza.

Still, his abrupt suspension appeared to reflect Mr. Netanyahu’s concerns both over the low levels of public confidence in his leadership, as shown by recent opinion polls, and the challenges Israel faces in maintaining international support amid its assault in Gaza, particularly given the high civilian death toll there.

In a statement on Sunday, Mr. Netanyahu called Mr. Eliyahu’s remarks “disconnected from reality.” Israel and its military “act according to the highest standards of international law in order to prevent harm to noncombatants, and we will continue to do so until victory,” he added.

The war in the Gaza Strip was prompted by the Oct. 7 surprise attack on Israel by Hamas, the group that controls the enclave. The assault killed more than 1,400 people, most of them Israeli civilians. More than 240 people were taken hostage during the incursion.

The Israeli military immediately responded with massive airstrikes on Gaza, and just over a week ago it began a ground invasion, saying the goal was to dismantle Hamas’s military capabilities and ability to rule. The Gazan Health Ministry says more than 9,400 people have been killed, a toll that has provoked outrage in the region and beyond and led the Biden administration to say that Israel must to do more to protect civilians.

While Mr. Eliyahu later clarified that his remarks had been “metaphorical” — saying though that “we definitely need a powerful and disproportionate response to terrorism” — his comments were immediately condemned amid the broader outcry over civilian casualties in Gaza.

Yoav Gallant, the defense minister, who is from Mr. Netanyahu’s conservative Likud party, said that Mr. Eliyahu’s words were “baseless and irresponsible.”

“It’s good that these are not the people in charge of Israel’s security,” he wrote on X, formerly Twitter.

The Oct. 7 attacks hit an Israeli society that was deeply divided by the plans of the government — the most right-wing and religiously conservative in Israel’s history — to curb the powers of the judiciary, even as Mr. Netanyahu was standing trial on charges of corruption.

Since the war’s start, Mr. Netanyahu has broadened his government and his war cabinet to include a centrist party led by Benny Gantz, a former military chief of staff and defense minister and also a longtime political rival. Mr. Gantz said he was leaving the ranks of the opposition out of a sense of responsibility and for the sake of national unity.


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