Netanyahu gives Amsalem responsibility for sensitive atomic energy authority

While PM maintains ultimate control of Israel Atomic Energy Commission, Likud colleague will reportedly be his representative; opposition MK raps putting firebrand minister in role

Likud MK David Amsalem (left) reacts during a discussion and a vote on the state budget at the Knesset in Jerusalem, May 23, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Likud MK David Amsalem (left) reacts during a discussion and a vote on the state budget at the Knesset in Jerusalem, May 23, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has decided to transfer responsibility for the Israel Atomic Energy Commission to Likud lawmaker David Amsalem.

The committee is one of the most sensitive in the security establishment. It is reportedly responsible for Israel’s alleged stockpile of nuclear weapons and is said to also be deeply involved in activities to thwart Iranian attempts to obtain an atomic bomb.

Firebrand politician Amsalem, a Netanyahu loyalist, already serves as regional cooperation minister, as a second minister in the Justice Ministry, and as the minister in charge of liaising between the government and the Knesset.

According to Channel 13 news, citing unnamed senior government sources, Netanyahu decided to appoint Amsalem as the minister who will work with the committee on his behalf. Netanyahu will retain ultimate authority over the commission.

By law, responsibility for the atomic commission rests with the prime minister. However, there have been previous circumstances when others were assigned authority over it, such as Yair Lapid when he was serving as alternative prime minister in the previous government, and former Likud minister Yuval Steinitz when he served as intelligence and strategic affairs minister under Netanyahu following 2013 elections.

Neither the Prime Minister’s Office or Amsalem’s office would confirm the decision, Channel 13 said.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu talks with then-coalition chairman MK David Amsalem during a Likud party faction meeting at the Knesset on November 19, 2018. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Opposition MK Ze’ev Elkin of the National Unity party lambasted the decision to appoint Amsalem, with an apparent reference to the lawmaker’s sometimes brash behavior.

“From now on the citizens of Israel can sleep quietly and the relevant bodies in the US finally have a partner for sensitive strategic dialogue,” Elkin tweeted sarcastically.

Amsalem was appointed a second minister within the Justice Ministry in late March after reportedly heated talks with Netanyahu following his exclusion from any top ministerial positions in the coalition. It is not clear what authority he holds at the Justice Ministry, with no details given by either himself or the government.

Then Minister of Housing and Construction Ze’ev Elkin speaks at a conference of the Israeli Construction Center in Tel Aviv on October 20, 2022. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

Amsalem has been a staunch backer of the government’s planned drastic overhaul of the judiciary, and last month called for the  indictment of Supreme Court President Esther Hayut over her opposition to the contentious plan, while also urging investigations against the leaders of the protests movement.

Dozens of former Israel Atomic Energy Commission workers have spoken out against the overhaul plan, including former chief Zeev Snir, a Netanyahu appointee who led the atomic commission in 2015-2022.

“The Iranians and our enemies are looking with amazement at what is happening here. They have no use for a nuclear weapon to destroy us. All they need to do is wait and see how we harm ourselves. It’s clear to me that by writing this letter, I have automatically tuned into an ‘enemy of the people’ and a ‘leftist.’ I am not,” Snir charged in March.

“I remind everyone that power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely,” Snir said, slamming the coalition for its “haughtiness” and “excessive self-confidence.”

The current head of the commission is Brig. Gen. (ret.) Moshe Edri.

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