The Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, has disciplined a junior member of his cabinet who appeared to voice openness to the idea of Israel carrying out a nuclear strike on Gaza.
Netanyahu’s office said in a statement that the minister concerned – heritage minister Amihai 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’s one way.” His remark made headlines in Arab media and scandalized mainstream Israeli broadcasters.
According to figures from the Hamas-run health ministry in Gaza, 9,500 Palestinians have been killed in the war, stirring widening international concern at Israel’s tactics.
Neither Eliyahu nor his party leader are in the streamlined ministerial forum – the war cabinet – running the Gaza war. Neither would they have inside knowledge of Israel’s nuclear capabilities – which it does not publicly acknowledge – or the power to activate them.
Netanyahu’s office said: “Eliyahu’s statements are not based in reality. Israel and the IDF (military) are operating in accordance with the highest standards of international law to avoid harming innocents. We will continue to do so until our victory.”
In a social media post, Eliyahu said: “It is clear to anyone who is sensible that the nuclear remark was metaphorical.”
He added: “A strong and disproportionate response to terrorism is definitely required, which will clarify to the Nazis and their supporters that terrorism is not worthwhile.”
A spokesperson for Hamas, an Islamist group that advocates Israel’s destruction, said Eliyahu represented the “unprecedented criminal Israeli terrorism (that) constitutes a danger to the entire region and the world”.
In Eliyahu’s Kol BaRama radio interview, it was noted that ravaging Gaza would endanger 240 hostages – among them foreigners as well as Israelis – held since Hamas sparked the war with a cross-border assault on 7 October that killed 1,400 people.
“In war, you pay a price,” the minister responded, while adding that he was praying for the hostages’ return.
Benny Gantz, a centrist former general who joined the conservative Netanyahu from the opposition in the streamlined war cabinet, said Eliyahu’s remarks had been damaging “and, even worse, added to the pain of the hostages’ families at home”.
The Hostages and Missing Families Forum, representing the families, issued a statement condemning Eliyahu’s remarks.
“The Forum underscores that the utmost priority for Israel’s actions in Gaza must be the release of hostages held by Hamas, including women, children, infants, and the elderly,” it said.
“Such a reckless and cruel statement, which does not represent the official position of the State of Israel or the families of the hostages, should never have been made.”