Israeli Official’s Nuclear Bomb Suggestion Enrages Russia

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An Israeli official’s suggestion to drop an atomic bomb on Gaza has sparked questioning from Russia on Israel’s nuclear capabilities and why international agencies have not rebuked such rhetoric.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu suspended far-right Heritage Minister Amichai Eliyahu on Sunday after he expressed dissatisfaction towards his nation’s military response following the deadliest Palestinian attacks ever on Israeli soil on October 7, alluding during an interview on an Israeli radio station that an atomic bomb could be “one option” to target Hamas militants.

Eliyahu wasn’t the first Israeli official to mention potential nuclear warfare against Hamas. Almost instantly after the attack one month ago, Revital “Tally” Gotliv, a member of the Knesset for the Likud, published multiple posts on social media advocating for forceful retaliation—including multiple references to a “Doomsday” weapon.

“[Eliyahu’s comments] raised a huge number of questions,” Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova said on the Russia-1 show Evening with Vladimir Solovyov.

“The No. 1 question is, did we hear an official declaration that [Israel] has nuclear weapons? Consequently, the next questions that everyone had were: where are the international organizations? Where is the IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency)? Where are the inspectors?”

Newsweek reached out to the IAEA and the Russian Foreign Ministry via email for comment.

Zakharova also tied in the United States, according to Russian state-owned media agency Tass, alleging that nuclear threats made by Israeli officials are supported by the U.S. and that it’s a backdrop for why Tel Aviv opposes a nuclear-weapon-free zone.

“If this program exists and existed, where were the tests conducted, at what testing grounds?” Zakharova said. “Obviously, apparently not in the region, then where? And isn’t the United States behind all this?”

Middle Eastern countries, including Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Syria, have publicly denounced Eliyahu’s comments. Netanyahu’s office said his suggestion is “not based in reality.”

Her response comes within days of Nikolai Patrushev, secretary of Russia’s Security Council, touting Russia’s nuclear proficiency as superior to all other global nations.

Israel’s nuclear stockpile is approximated due to the country not openly divulging such information.

The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, as part of its annual assessment of global armaments, disarmament and international security published in June, estimated that Israel is modernizing its nuclear arsenal and has 90 stored warheads.

Israel is not a party to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and has not accepted IAEA safeguards on some of its principal nuclear activities, according to the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation.

Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova in Moscow on March 29, 2018. Zakharova accused Israel and the U.S. of working together on nuclear activities.
YURI KADOBNOV/AFP via Getty Images

Nikolai Sokov, senior fellow at the Vienna Center for Disarmament and Nonproliferation, told Newsweek that “Israel is definitely a nuclear weapon state” that refuses to deny or acknowledge its nuclear capabilities, essentially following through on a policy of ambiguity.

“It’s all very classified, and Israel has done an excellent job at concealing everything,” Sokov said. “Israeli nuclear weapons were intended for a situation when the survival of the country was a risk, and in this sense, the October 7 attack was nowhere near 1967 or 1973. It hurts a lot, but the threat is not what it used to be.”

He also referred to Russia’s tie-in of the U.S. with Israel regarding nuclear threats as “propaganda” due to the fractured relationship between both countries, plus not wanting to contradict the long-standing U.S. nonproliferation policy.

Zakharova could also be attempting to strengthen Russia’s relationship with the Saudis, Sokov added.

“There is a long-term interest and a generally positive attitude toward Israel in Russia in general and Moscow in particular,” he said. “Note that the blame primarily goes to the U.S., which supposedly prevented earlier attempts at a long-term settlement (two states).

“Russia definitely does not want the war to expand, does not support Hamas (although talks to it about hostages), and tries to find a middle way between Israel and Arabs. Given the geopolitical situation, Arabs (especially in the Gulf and Egypt) are extremely important to Moscow, and I suppose it will continue to leverage the situation to strengthen the relationship,” Sokov said.