The USS Liberty incident resulted in no one being found guilty. If anything, it led to the opposite, as the US aid budget for Israel was increased by 450 percent in 1968. This is the story of when Israel attacked America, and the US government sided with Tel Aviv.
On June 8, 1967, Israel attacked the USS Liberty, an American intelligence vessel. The tragedy killed or injured two-thirds of the ship’s crew in a premeditated attack by the Israeli military, but the US government’s response was to move on and strengthen ties with Tel Aviv. It might be argued that this established a precedent for Israel to execute US citizens with impunity in the future.
The Six-Day War had run four days. Israel had taken over the West Bank, Gaza Strip, and East Jerusalem, beaten Jordan’s forces, decimated the Egyptians, and was enjoying success against Syria. Tel Aviv had informed the US that the conflict would be restricted and that it would not seek to seize places such as the Syrian Golan Heights or the Egyptian Sinai Peninsula. However, Israel was on the verge of doing precisely that.
A state-of-the-art American ship with roughly 300 crew members was stationed in the international waters of the Mediterranean, off the coast of Egypt, to collect information critical to Washington’s interests in the area. It was the Cold War, and Israel was confronting three of the Soviet Union’s most troublesome Middle Eastern allies: Egypt, Syria, and the Palestine Liberation Organization. The conflict, which is set to end in a few days, will transform the region in favor of the West and cement Tel Aviv’s place as one of America’s top allies.
The Six-Day War between Israel and its Arab neighbors, which is frequently portrayed as Israel’s battle for American interests, was not as straightforward as this narrative implies. On June 8, at 2 p.m., Israeli ground control ordered its fighter jets to launch an attack on the USS Liberty, a plainly recognized US ship flying a huge American flag (read below).
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This was a ship that Israel had identified as belonging to the US Navy at least seven times, according to audiotapes obtained by Al-Jazeera. The Israeli military started fire on the ship with armor-piercing rounds. They also used napalm, shot down the lifeboats, and fired a torpedo at the ship.
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As a result of the unjustified attack, 34 Americans were murdered and 172 were injured. Survivors of the USS Liberty have gathered evidence to suggest that the case should be tried for war crimes. Despite unambiguous appeals for a complete inquiry to bring those who authorized the attack to justice, survivors of the USS Liberty say their pleas were never heard, and most of the paperwork surrounding the tragedy is remains classified by the US government to this day.
President Lyndon Johnson’s administration was briefed on the incident promptly after it happened. Israel’s official statement was published, acknowledging that the attack was premeditated, but that their soldiers had misjudged the ship and that the entire incident had been a terrible blunder. The US did not immediately appreciate this position, but Johnson never conducted a complete investigation. Many survivors of the USS Liberty attack believe there was a cover-up and continue to seek justice 55 years later because of the massive amount of censorship around the disaster, the lack of responsibility, and the lack of a proper investigation.
Israel’s assertion that it was unaware it was an American ship has been questioned by a number of US military, intelligence, and civilian authorities. Dean Rusk, the US secretary of state at the time, said in his memoirs, ‘As I Saw It,’ that “I didn’t believe them then, and I don’t believe them to this day. The attack was outrageous.”
Shortly later, the Israeli military filed six charges against a number of individuals who were implicated. They were eventually dismissed by military judge Sgan-Aluf I. Yerushalmi, who concluded in the preliminary inquiry that “in all the circumstances of the case, the conduct of any one of the naval officers concerned in this incident cannot be considered unreasonable, to an extent which justified commital for trial.” Eyewitness testimony was eventually omitted from the American report, which was subsequently disregarded by the US government. Furthermore, vital evidence was lost, and survivors, as well as family members of the victims, were barred from speaking to the press for concern of inflaming US-Israeli relations.
Former US admiral Thomas Moorer declared the occurrence “unprecedented and a national disgrace,” although there was never an official hearing in the US Congress on it. Moorer went on to say that Secretary of Defense McNamara and President Johnson “ordered to stand down by Secretary of Defense McNamara and President Johnson for reasons the American public deserved to know. The captain and crew of the Liberty, rather than being widely acclaimed as the heroes they most certainly are, have been silenced, ignored, honored belatedly and away from the cameras, and denied a history that accurately reflects their ordeal.”
When the USS Liberty was attacked, the US media was almost deafeningly silent about whether or not it was a planned Israeli attack, or even the magnitude of the incident. However, Newsweek released an article in which a senior White House official claimed to believe that Israel deliberately targeted the vessel. Soon after, it was revealed that Johnson was Newsweek’s source, enraging both Israel and its Washington lobbyists. The Israel lobby was purportedly planning a campaign accusing the president of “blood libel” and painting him as an anti-Semite if he did not change his mind. This line of reasoning suggests that Johnson may have searched the truth, but was more concerned with the votes of the Jewish population in the United States and did not want to be associated with their cause.
In the shape of a significant political gift, Israel supplied another reason for the US president to shift his attitude to the matter and abandon the idea of pursuing it further. Johnson was receiving a lot of criticism at the time because of his role in prolonging the Vietnam War. This was a major diplomatic dilemma, especially since North Vietnamese forces had lately acquired Soviet SAMs.
Every day, these missiles took down US planes, increasing the number of Americans killed — a situation for which Israel had a solution. Israel had gained its hands on the identical Soviet missiles and the instructions for their use thanks to its successful land offensive in Egypt’s Sinai. Tel Aviv planned to give them to the United States as a present, complete with instructions.
The Six-Day War was a tremendous victory for both the United States and Israel. For the Americans, this was a tremendous win over their Soviet adversary, and for Israel, it was a magnificent moment after defeating its neighbors and becoming the West’s sweetheart. The USS Liberty narrative reaching the press was simply too much of a speed bump, and it would have had a severe impact on both parties’ outcomes if the American public had learned the truth.
Why did Israel attack America?
There are four basic theories for why Israel attacked the USS Liberty, making the truth difficult to pin down, and any one of these four causes, or a combination of them, is probable. There is also the Israeli story, which claims that the strike was a blunder.
The first reason is that Israel deceived its American friends by claiming to be waging a limited war and not trying to seize land. Tel Aviv had made it obvious that it intended to conquer not just the Sinai Peninsula, but also the Golan Heights, which it would claim as its own territory after the war, as well as the whole of historic Palestine. This line of reasoning shows that Israel was concerned that if the American intelligence ship discovered any information about Tel Aviv’s genuine objectives, it would cause unintended trouble.
The second and third possibilities are based on more plainly visible Israeli war crimes that the vessel could have picked up on, such as the massacre of 14 UN peacekeepers in Gaza and the mass killing of around 1,000 Egyptian prisoners of war in Sinai. According to reports, the USS Liberty was near to El-Arish, where Israeli forces would later line up and shoot Egyptian POWs. Israeli forces are thought to have slain at least 400 detainees in El-Arish alone.
The fourth theory, which was based mostly on a BBC investigative series from 2012, was that the incident could have been a failed false-flag operation. This suggests that US intelligence personnel were involved, as they are believed to have considered the idea of a joint US-Israeli operation to destroy an American ship and blame it on the Egyptians. The data is not convincing, but it leads us to assume that US and Israeli intelligence were looking for a pretext similar to the Gulf of Tonkin to start a coordinated assault against Egypt. Although this cannot be ruled out totally, critics of this line of reasoning claim that Israel had already been handily defeating all of its neighbors without the help of the US, and that it would be counterproductive for Washington to offer a justification for a Soviet involvement.
In 2017, The Intercept published two confidential National Security Agency (NSA) documents that provided additional insight into the incident. The NSA had its own Hebrew transliteration system, according to one of the documents, a classification guide that was in use until at least 2006. However, because the handbook indicates that this information is confidential, we are unable to determine what proof this might provide. According to the article in the Intercept, this demonstrates that the US has long considered Israel to be a “intelligence target.” The NSA has refused to accept that it collected Israeli signals on that day until now, despite the fact that an investigative study published by the Chicago Tribune contradicts this assertion.
The issue of the NSA’s possible intelligence targeting of Israel is significant since it supports the idea that Israel knew it was striking an American ship. It could also support Russian historian Joseph Daichman’s claim in his book ‘History of the Mossad,’ that Israel bombed the Liberty to prevent the Soviets from collecting US-intercepted intelligence. Israel was justified in bombing the ship, according to Daichman, because failing to do so could result in the Soviets providing the Egyptians with valuable intelligence material that was critical to the war effort.
US-Israeli relations and the killing of Americans with impunity
The USS Liberty incident resulted in no one being found guilty. The US aid budget for Israel was increased by 450 percent in 1968, the year after the June 1967 war, and Tel Aviv had become closer to the US than it had ever been. No future US administration would ever seek justice for the death of 34 unarmed Americans. The bottom line was that Israel’s status as a crucial US partner was more essential than American lives, and because the incident was never widely publicized in the United States, there was minimal outrage.
Another high-profile case of Israel targeting an American person occurred in March 2003. This time, a young woman called Rachel Corrie was killed by an Israeli soldier driving a motorized bulldozer in the southern Gaza Strip. The 23-year-old American woman was easily identified and was trying to dissuade Israeli authorities from demolishing Palestinian houses. In 2012, an Israeli court ruled its soldier not guilty after years of her parents struggling for justice through the legal system. Corrie was mercilessly crushed to death, and the US government did nothing to help her.
According to the findings of a CNN investigation, a veteran Palestinian-American journalist called Shireen Abu Akleh was fatally shot by an Israeli soldier on purpose just over a month ago. The US State Department first stated that it trusted its Israeli friends to investigate what amounted to a war crime, but did not specify what steps the US would take to secure accountability. Israel later stated that it would not investigate Shireen Abu Akleh’s death and that, even if one of its soldiers was to blame, they would not be held guilty for any criminal misbehavior.
Based on the information before us, it appears that President Joe Biden’s administration is adhering to the same “rules” that have been in place since 1967 of never penalizing Israel no matter what, even if it is guilty for the murder of US people. The prevailing viewpoint is that US aid to Israel is unconditional, and that US support for Tel Aviv is unwavering, regardless of Tel Aviv’s actions.
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