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The USS Liberty

QUESTION:

What is the USS Liberty?

ANSWER:

* One often hears complaints about Israel's mistaken attack on the USS Liberty during the six-day war, apparently thinking there was some sort of "Zionist Conspiracy" to kill some US soldiers. During the Gulf War, a British armored division was attacked by US aircraft. Should we suspect some sort of American Conspiracy to kill British soldiers? Mistakes happen in the heat of battle. This is not evidence of conspiracy. During the Gulf war, U.S. armored vehicles where attacked by U.S aircraft. Does this mean there was an American Conspiracy to kill Americans???

The attack on the USS Liberty was tragic, but the Liberty was mistakenly identified as an Egyptian supply vessel.

* The following is a description of the event as published in THE BOATS OF CHERBOURG (pg 68-69) 1988, by Abraham Rabinovich, a senior feature writer for the JERUSALEM POST, and a foreign correspondent:

"Unknown to the Israelis, the vessel had sailed into the war zone on June 8, the fourth day of the war, to monitor battlefield communications. On that day, naval headquarters in Haifa ordered three torpedo boats to sail from Ashdod harbor to check reports that El Arish, captured by the army three days before was being shelled from the sea. The explosions and smoke in El Arish had in fact been caused by an Egyptian ammunition dump that detonated. However, as the torpedo boats approached the area, their radar picked up a target to the west, moving away from El Arish. Presuming it to be an Egyptian warship, naval headquarters called for an air strike to slow up the seemingly fleeing vessel."

"Two Mirages were directed the the area, and the lead pilot reported "seeing no flag". The ship had two guns on the forecastle and was clearly not Israeli. Liberty crewmen would firmly maintain afterward that the American flag was being flown, but the Mirage pilot's report was taken at navy headquarters as confirmation that the ship was an Egyptian vessel trying to reach Port Said. Ordered to attack, the planes set the vessel afire with strafing runs. The smoke thickened when another plane dispatched to the scene dropped a napalm bomb on the Liberty's deck."


QUESTION:

Did Israel intentionally bomb a US ship?

ANSWER:

Not any more than the Americans intentionally bombed their British allies or their own troops (both of which events actually occurred) during the 1991 Gulf war.


QUESTION:

Why was a US ship in a war zone?

ANSWER:

* "there are many open questions: Why a message from the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS message 072230Z) directing the ship to remain at least 20 miles off the Egyptian coast was delayed for 14 hours and why, when it was finally transmitted, it was sent in error to the Naval Communication Center in the Philippines. Why a second crucial message from the Joint Chiefs drafted at 2.00 a.m. on the morning of June 8, exactly 12 hours before the ship was attacked, ordering the Liberty to steam at least 100 miles from the coast was lost as well... [had the message 080917] been received, there would have been no Liberty incident."
- Hirsh Goodman, THE JERUSALEM REPORT, November 1991

* Exerpt from Israeli Attack on U.S. Ship Reveals Failure of C3 by James M. Ennes, Jr, the crypto specialist and Deck Officer of the USS Liberty, in Electronics Defense Mag. in 1981

"The United States made several serious, almost frantic attempts to move the ship. As the Liberty approached Gaza, the Joint Chiefs of Staff first sent a priority message ordering the ship to move 20 miles from the coast; the message was swamped by higher precedence traffic and was not processed until long after the crisis had ended. Hours later, a JCS duty officer phoned naval headquarters in London to relay an urgent JCS order to move the ship 100 miles from the coast; the telephone call was ignored, and Liberty's copy of the confirming message was misrouted to the Philipines before being returned to the Pentagon, where it was again misrouted, this time to Fort Meade in Maryland, where it was lost."

"Eventually, at least six critical messages were lost, delayed, or otherwise mishandled. Any one of those messages might have saved Liberty. None reached the ship."


QUESTION:

Wasn't the ship clearly identified as a US ship? Wasn't it obvious?

ANSWER:

* "Yes, there was doubt as to the identify of the ship. One of the pilots identified it as a Russian vessel during the course of the attack, bringing the cabinet into emergency session. This fear was quickly dispelled. And yes, there still remains controversy about whether or not there was an American flag visible at the time of the attack. But while some mystery remains, the truth is now basically known: The incident was a tragic mistake marked by serious errors of judgement on both sides, complicated by the fog and urgency of war and compounded by an almost childish rivalry between the air force and the navy as to who would grab the prize: sinking what was genuinely thought to be an Egyptian ship shelling Israeli forces at El Arish from the sea."

"...Mistakes are not uncommon in war. The day before the Liberty was attacked, Israeli warplanes bombed and strafed an Israeli armored column near Jenin in the West Bank. During the Lebanese war, in June 1982, over 20 Israeli servicemen were killed when a Phantom jet pilot mistakenly identified Israeli tanks as Syrian. In May 1987, in the Gulf, the USS Stark was accidentally hit by Iraqi warplanes, killing 37 servicemen. An Iranian civilian airliner was shot down by an over-anxious American battleship crew in May 1988, killing all 290 passengers on board. So it was with the Liberty, an American spy ship, that should not have been where it was, when it was."

- by Hirsh Goodman, in THE JERUSALEM REPORT, November 1991

* "The son of Amiral Erell, Udi was an ensign aboard one of the torpedo boats. He could see the smoke from a long distance as the boats raced at top speed toward the scene. As the vessel came into view, Erell's skipper scanned an identification book containing pictures of the ships in the Arab fleets and consulted with the commanders on the other boats. The squadron commander concluded that the ship was the Egyptian supply vessel EL QUSEIR. Ensign Erell, looking over his skipper's shoulder at the picture and glancing up at the burning vessel, fully agreed, even though he would later recall that the mast in the picture was not positioned identically with the mast of the target vessel...."

"Nevertheless, the squadron commander sought to confirm the vessel's identity before attacking. When the Israeli signalman flashed the message "What ship?" Udi Erell saw the response flickering through the smoke four miles away---"AAA", the signal meaning "Identify yourself first." The same signal had been flashed, the Israelis were aware, by the Egyptian destroyer challenged off Haifa during the Sinai Campaign in 1956. Americans on the bridge of the Liberty would later state that the signals flashed were the ship's name and its international call sign, not what the Israelis believed they saw. Even with binoculars, Erell could make out "no flag". The sqaudron commander ordered his boats to commence torpedo attacks. The vessels peeled off to make their runs and fired five torpedos. Only one hit home. The boats raked the burning ship, now dead in the water, with their guns."

"Fire was halted when one of the officers reported seeing the identification markings CTR-5 on the ship's hull, markings that were not those of an Arab vessel. Notified of this, Haifa ordered the sqaudron commander to pick up survivors and definitely establish the ship's identity......Drawing closer to the burning vessel, they were able to make out a flag. It was not opened by a breeze and could not immediately be identified, but it was clearly not Egyptian...."

"Udi saw a splash of red on the flag and heard a report being sent back to Haifa that the vessel might be Russian. The report caused shock and consternation when passed on to General Staff headquarters. The shock was not abated when the torpedo-spadron commander reported half an hour later that he had identified the vessel as American."

- Abraham Rabinovich, a senior feature writer for the JERUSALEM POST, in THE BOATS OF CHERBOURG (pg 68-69) 1988


QUESTION:

Why would Israel have attacked a ship belonging to the U.S., a friend of Israel?

ANSWER:

* "None of Israel's accusers has been able to explain adequately why Israel would have deliberately attacked an American ship. Confusion in a long line of communications, which occurred in a tense atmosphere on both the American and Israeli sides (a message from the Joint Chiefs of Staff for the ship to remain at least 20 miles off the Egyptian coast never arrived) is a more probable explanation."

They write: "Accidents caused by "friendly fire" are not uncommon in wartime. In 1988, the U.S. Navy mistakenly downed an Iranian passenger plane, killing 290 civilians. During the Gulf War, 35 of the 148 Americans who died in battle were killed by "friendly fire." In fact, only the day before the Liberty was attacked, Israeli pilots accidentally bombed one of their own armored columns south of Jenin on the West Bank."

As a former high-ranking Israeli naval officer, Shlomo Erell, told the Associated Press (June 5, 1977): "No one would ever have dreamt that an American ship would be there. Even the United States didn't know where its ship was. We were advised by the proper authorities that there was no American ship within 100 miles."

- Mitchell G. Bard and Joel Himelbarb in "MYTHS AND FACTS: A Concise Record of the Arab-Israeli Conflict"

* "It was the conclusion of the investigatory body, headed by an admiral of the navy in whom we have great confidence, that the attack was not intentional."
- Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara, to Congress on July 26, 1967

* Israel did apologize for the tragedy and paid millions of dollars in reparations to the United States and to the families of the victims.