December 11, 2023

Saudi Arabian officials spoke out strongly on Sunday against comments from Israeli Heritage Minister Amichai Eliyahu, in which he suggested that nuclear weapons could be an option in the ongoing conflict with Hamas.

On October 7, Hamas led the deadliest Palestinian militant attack on Israel in history, with Israel subsequently launching its heaviest-ever airstrikes on Gaza in response. As of Sunday, over 1,400 people in Israel have been killed, the Associated Press reported, while more than 9,000 Palestinians in Gaza have been killed in the ensuing strikes from Israel.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said his country is “at war” and has cut off food, fuel, electricity, and medicine supplies into Gaza. Israel has called up 360,000 army reservists as it prepares for a likely ground offensive into the territory, which has an estimated population of around 2.3 million.

During a recent interview with the Israeli radio station Kol Barama, Eliyahu said he was not satisfied with the scale of Israel’s military response in Gaza in retaliation against Hamas. To this, the host asked if the minister might be in favor of using “some kind of atomic bomb” on the Gaza territory “to kill everyone.”

“That’s one option,” Eliyahu said.

saudi arabia israel nuclear statement
The Saudi Arabian flag is seen. The Saudi Arabian government on Sunday decried in strong terms the recent comments from an Israeli official seemingly endorsing the use of nuclear weapons in Gaza.
Eric Lafforgue/Art in All of Us/Corbis via Getty Images

In response to this exchange, Netanyahu’s office called Eliyahu’s comments “disconnected from reality” and claimed that Israeli forces were working to spare “non-combatants” in Gaza during the conflict, despite the growing Palestinian death toll, which has sparked worldwide calls for a ceasefire. The minister himself also claimed later that his comments about the use of nuclear weapons had been “metaphorical.”

“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,” a statement from Netanyahu’s office read. “We will continue to do so until our victory.”

The prime minister also said that Eliyahu would be suspended from all government meetings until further notice, The Jerusalem Post reported.

These responses were not enough for the Saudi Arabian foreign ministry, which released a statement decrying what it saw as the permeation of “extremism and brutality among members of the Israeli government.”

“Moreover, not dismissing the minister and only freezing his membership constitutes the utmost disregard for all human standards and values,” its statement read.

Newsweek reached out to Israeli officials via email for comment.

Despite Eliyahu’s comments, the Israeli government has never confirmed nor denied whether or not it possesses nuclear weapons. The nation is, however, widely believed to have them, and to have had nuclear capabilities since 1967. Estimates of its alleged stockpile of nuclear missiles have gone as high as 400.