A junior minister in Benjamin Netanyahu’s coalition government from a small, far-right party was asked on a radio show about a hypothetical nuclear option in Gaza. Instead of giving a boilerplate response that would have included the standard denial that Israel had no nuclear weapons, Heritage Minister Amichai Eliyahu said it was “one of the possibilities.”
It’s the worst-kept military secret in the universe that Israel possesses nuclear weapons. It has had an operational weapon since the mid-1960s and may have stolen enough U-235 uranium from France and Britain to build several dozen more weapons.
The estimated stockpile of Israeli nukes is at least 90 bombs with the material to construct another hundred.
But to have a junior minister blurt out the nonsensical thought that Israel would use nukes on Gaza is something that Netanyahu didn’t need. He “suspended” the Heritage Minister and told him he wasn’t welcome at cabinet meetings.
Netanyahu couldn’t fire the idiot given the perilous state of his coalition. He needs every party to remain on board in order to maintain his coalition.
But the fallout from the minister’s remarks is serious. It angered many Arab states and displeased Vladimir Putin in Russia.
“This has raised a huge number of questions,” Maria Zakharova, Russia’s foreign ministry spokeswoman, was quoted as saying by state RIA news agency.
Zakharova said the main issue was that Israel appeared to have admitted that it had nuclear weapons.
Israel does not publicly acknowledge it has nuclear weapons though the Federation of American Scientists estimates Israel has about 90 nuclear warheads.
“Question number one – it turns out that we are hearing official statements about the presence of nuclear weapons?” Zakharova said.
If so, she said, then where are the International Atomic Energy Agency and international nuclear inspectors?
Naturally, Iran wants an army of UN nuclear inspectors to descend on Israel. “The UN Security Council and the International Atomic Energy Agency must take immediate and uninterrupted action to disarm this barbaric and apartheid regime. Tomorrow is late,” Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian said on X, formerly known as Twitter, on Monday.
In that same radio interview, Minister Yehudit also let drop that he thought there were “no non-combatants in Gaza,” which is a shockingly ignorant thing to say. The Washington Institute For Near East Policy, which has been polling in Gaza for decades, shows that it’s a myth that a majority of Gazans hate Israel and love Hamas.
According to the latest Washington Institute polling, conducted in July 2023, Hamas’s decision to break the ceasefire was not a popular move. While the majority of Gazans (65%) did think it likely that there would be “a large military conflict between Israel and Hamas in Gaza” this year, a similar percentage (62%) supported Hamas maintaining a ceasefire with Israel. Moreover, half (50%) agreed with the following proposal: “Hamas should stop calling for Israel’s destruction, and instead accept a permanent two-state solution based on the 1967 borders.” Moreover, across the region, Hamas has lost popularity over time among many Arab publics. This decline in popularity may have been one of the motivating factors behind the group’s decision to attack.
In fact, Gazan frustration with Hamas governance is clear; most Gazans expressed a preference for PA administration and security officials over Hamas—the majority of Gazans (70%) supported a proposal of the PA sending “officials and security officers to Gaza to take over the administration there, with Hamas giving up separate armed units,” including 47% who strongly agreed. Nor is this a new view—this proposal has had majority support in Gaza since first polled by The Washington Institute in 2014.
Israel is not interested in killing Palestinians. This is obvious to anyone who cares to examine the facts. There’s no “genocide” underway in Gaza or anywhere else on Palestinian territories. If there is, Israel is doing a terrible, incompetent job of killing all the Palestinians.
Minister Yehudit’s words caused a lot of damage in the Arab world. And the fallout is just beginning.