The story of when Israel attacked America, and the US government sided with Tel Aviv — Analysis

RT discusses USS Liberty: An American battleship that was attacked by Israeli forces on July 6, 1967.

Israel attacked the USS Liberty, an American intelligence vessel on June 8, 1967. The incident left two-thirds of the ship’s crew dead or injured, in an intentional assault by the Israeli military, yet the US government’s response was to move on and become closer with Tel Aviv. One could argue that Israel was able to set an example and kill US citizens as it did so.

The Six-Day War was only four days old. Israel had already occupied Gaza Strip, West Bank and East Jerusalem and defeated the Jordanian army. It was also able to defeat the Egyptians and was a success in its war against Syria. Tel Aviv informed the US that the war would be limited and it wouldn’t pursue seizing areas such as Syria’s Golan Heights and the Egyptian Sinai Peninsula. Israel had the capability to accomplish exactly that.

Floating in the international waters of the Mediterranean, off the coast of Egypt, a state-of-the-art American ship carrying around 300 crewmen was stationed to gather intelligence that was key to Washington’s interests in the region. This was in the Cold War and Israel was taking out three of the Soviet Union’s most troublesome Middle East allies: Syria, Egypt and the Palestine Liberation Organization. The conflict, about to end in just a few days’ time, would reshape the region in the West’s favor and earn Tel Aviv its position as one of America’s top allies.

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The Six-Day War between Israel and its Arab neighbors, often painted as Israel’s battle for American interests, was not exactly as clean cut as this narrative suggests. Israeli ground control ordered its fighter jets, which were carrying a large American flag and clearly marked as a USS Liberty at 2 p.m. on June 8th to strike the USS Liberty. This was a vessel that Israel had identified – at least seven times, according to audiotapes uncovered by Al-Jazeera – as belonging to the US Navy. After identifying the vessel with Israel’s Navy, they opened fire on it using armor-piercing shots. They dropped napalm, shot down the lifeboats and fired a torpedo at the ship. 

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The unprovoked attack resulted in the deaths of 34 Americans and injuries to 172 others. Some survivors from the USS Liberty argue it should be prosecuted as a war criminal. Despite clear calls for a comprehensive investigation that would bring those who ordered the assault to justice, USS Liberty survivors say their pleas have never been followed through on and, until this day, much of the documentation surrounding the incident is still deemed classified by the US government.

The cover-up

Shortly after the incident occurred, President Lyndon Johnson’s administration was informed in full. Israel made its official statement, admitting it was a deliberate attack, and claiming that their forces misidentified the ship. This was a major mistake. Johnson did not pursue an investigation and this position was not accepted immediately by the US. Due to the large scale of the incident’s censorship and the absence of accountability and proper inquiry, many victims of the USS Liberty attacks claim that there was a cover up and demand justice even 55 years later.

Many US military, intelligence and civilian officials have also disputed Israel’s claim that it wasn’t aware it was an American ship. Among them was the US secretary of state at the time, Dean Rusk, who stated in his autobiography, ‘As I Saw It’, that “I didn’t believe them then, and I don’t believe them to this day. The attack was outrageous.”

Six criminal charges were filed by the Israeli army against several of the accused shortly afterward. These charges were eventually dropped by Sgan Aluf I. Yerushalmi (military judge). He concluded 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.”Later, eye-witness testimony was omitted from the American report. The US government discarded it. The US government also deleted key evidence and prevented survivors from talking to the media, as well as their families, fearing that this would ignite tensions between the US and Israel.

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The Congress did not hold a hearing about this incident. It was called “The American Congress.” “unprecedented and a national disgrace,”Thomas Moorer was an ex-US Admiral. Moorer stated that US forces had been “as strong as ever.” “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.”

In terms of whether it had been an Israeli intentional attack on USS Liberty, or on its scale, US media were almost silent when the story was published. Newsweek, however, published an article quoting a White House official who said that Israel deliberately targeted the vessel. It was soon thereafter discovered that Johnson was Newsweek’s source, and this enraged Israel and its lobbyists in Washington alike. If the president didn’t alter his position, the Israel lobby was allegedly preparing a campaign that would accuse him of “blood libel” and paint him as an anti-Semite. This argument could suggest Johnson was not interested in finding the truth. He was concerned more about the votes and stigmatization of Jews living in America. 

The US president was also influenced by Israel to reconsider his position on the matter and to give up the idea of continuing to pursue it in any way. Johnson faced a lot of backlash at the time for his involvement in the Vietnam War. It was an enormous diplomatic problem, particularly since the North Vietnamese had just acquired Soviet surface to air missiles.

Everyday, US aircraft were being shot out of the sky by these missiles, meaning the American death toll was steadily increasing – a problem for which Israel had the answer. Through Israel’s successful ground offensive in the Egyptian Sinai, it had gotten its hands on the same Soviet missiles and the manuals for their usage. Tel Aviv decided to hand them over to the US as a gift, along with the instructions.

To both the US and Israel, the Six-Day War was a major triumph. The Six-Day War was both a victory for the Americans and a triumph for Israel. It was Israel’s golden moment, when it had defeated its neighbours and was the West’s favorite country. It was too much of a distraction for the USS Liberty story to make it into the mainstream media. This would have adversely affected the outcome achieved by the parties if they had known the truth.

Why did Israel strike America?

The four main reasons Israel attacked USS Liberty are not clear. It is difficult to determine the truth. However, it seems likely it was one of the four or a combination. Another explanation is the Israeli narrative that says the attack wasn’t a mistake.

The first explanation is that Israel had sold its American allies the lie that it was only fighting a limited war and weren’t seeking a land grab. Tel Aviv planned to seize the Sinai Peninsula as well as the Golan Heights. This territory would be its after-war territory. This line of thinking suggests Israel feared that the American intelligence ship may have caused unwanted trouble if it were to find any information on Tel Aviv’s true intentions.

These explanations relate to more obvious Israeli war crimes the ship could have picked up, such as the killing of 14 UN peacekeepers from Gaza Strip and mass execution of approximately 1,000 Egyptian prisoners-of-war in Sinai. USS Liberty was reported to have been in close proximity of El-Arish. There, Israeli forces would line up to shoot down Egyptian POWs. Israeli forces are believed to have killed at least 400 prisoners in El-Arish.

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The fourth explanation, which stemmed primarily from a BBC investigative documentary, released back in 2012, was that the attack could have been a false-flag operation gone wrong. It is possible that US intelligence officials discussed the possibility a US-Israeli attack to sink an American vessel in order to blame the Egyptians. While the evidence of this does not prove anything, we can conclude that Israeli and US intelligence sought a Gulf of Tonkin pretext to wage a joint war on Egypt. This is a possible possibility. However, it should not be completely dismissed. Opponents of this view argue that Israel had already beaten all its neighbours without US assistance and so Washington would have little to no reason to intervene.

The Intercept revealed two secret documents from the National Security Agency, NSA in 2017. This provided additional information. The Intercept released one of these documents. It was a classified guide, which had been in use since at least 2006. This document revealed that the NSA used its own Hebrew transliteration system. However, the guide states that this information is secret and hence we aren’t able to conclude exactly what evidence this would present. The Intercept article states that this proves the US has historically considered Israel an “intelligence target.”NSA has refused to admit that it intercepted Israeli communications that day. This claim was refuted by a Chicago Tribune investigative report.

The reason the question of the NSA’s potential intelligence targeting of Israel is so important is because it helps bolster the theory that Israel knew they were attacking an American ship. It may also give us reason to believe the argument made by Russian author, Joseph Daichman, in his book ‘History of the Mossad’, which says Israel attacked the Liberty to stop the Soviets from stealing US-intercepted intelligence. Daichman says that Israel attacked the ship to stop the Soviets from stealing intelligence vital to war efforts.

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Never was anyone ever found guilty in the USS Liberty case. In 1968, the year following the June 1967 war, the US aid budget for Israel was expanded by 450% and Tel Aviv had grown closer to the US than ever before. For the killing of 34 Americans unarmed, no future US government will ever seek accountability. The bottom line was that Israel’s position as a key US ally was more important than American lives and, since the story never did rounds in the US media, there was little protest over what had occurred.

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A high-profile Israeli attack on an American citizen happened in March 2003. Rachel Corrie, a teenage woman from the United States was killed by an Israeli soldier operating a bulldozer with a military engine in southern Gaza Strip. The 23-year-old American woman was clearly identifiable and was attempting to prevent the demolition of Palestinian homes by Israeli forces. The Israeli court in 2012 found the soldier it had charged not guilty after years of struggle by her family for justice. The US government didn’t lift a finger for young Corrie, who was brutally crushed to death.

A CNN investigation revealed that a soldier in Israel shot Shireen Abu Akleh, an American veteran journalist, just over a month before. This was done intentionally. While the US State Department claimed it believed its Israeli allies would investigate war crimes, they kept silent about what accountability would be held by the US. Israel later declared that it would not investigate the killing of Shireen Abu Akleh and that, even in the event of one of its soldiers being responsible, they wouldn’t be liable for any criminal misconduct. 

It would seem, based upon the evidence before us, that President Joe Biden’s team are following the same “rules| that has existed since 1967 of never punishing Israel no matter what, even if it is responsible for murdering US citizens. The line of thinking here is that US aid to Israel is unconditional and that support for Tel Aviv never wanes, no matter what Tel Aviv does.

These opinions, statements and thoughts are the sole opinion of the author. They do not necessarily reflect those made by RT.



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