DENIED INFAMY: THE ISRAELI
ATTACK ON THE USS LIBERTY
By Alan Sabrosky
At the end of the day, more
and more Americans will see graphic portrayals of an American ship attacked
– and especially of uniformed Americans killed and wounded
– by a foreign country
named Israel, says Alan Sabrosky.
June 7, 2009
Americans respond badly to treachery. This
may explain why they went into WWII against Nazi Germany with determination but
against Imperial Japan with rage, even though Hitler was decidedly the more
The reason lay in
Japan’s surprise attack on
the US naval base at Pearl
Harbor, described by then-President Roosevelt
as "a date which will live in
Less catastrophic but more treacherous and
deserving of infamy was the deliberate Israeli air and naval attack upon the USS
Liberty, a clearly marked naval intelligence ship, on June 8, 1967.
After several hours of aerial surveillance, unmarked aircraft attacked the USS
Liberty with gunfire, rockets, and napalm. This was followed by an attack by
three motor torpedo boats, firing torpedoes and then machine-gunning the ship,
its crew, and their lifeboats. The ship managed to get out a call for help under
extraordinary circumstances, but was nearly sunk, and more than 200 American
sailors and Marines were killed or wounded. Israel claimed it was a case of
mistaken identity, and the US Government accepted that explanation.
Both lied, and Israel’s lies become evident when one examines the profiles of
the USS Liberty and the Egyptian ship the Israelis supposedly thought they were
attacking, plus a photo of the USS Liberty itself. Misidentification in a
December gale in the North Atlantic might have been possible. On a June day in
the Eastern Mediterranean, never, at least by any pilot with the visual acuity
to take off and land his aircraft:
Remember that in 1967, Israel’s fighters
and motor torpedo boats had to get close to use their on-board weapons against a
target. Anyone seeing the radars and electronic arrays on the USS Liberty knew
this was not some Egyptian tramp steamer.
Finally, there is the USN designation "GTR5" on both sides of the bow & the
stern, with the number larger than the letters — anyone approaching the ship
close enough to attack cannot miss that designation, and know that this was a US
But the Israelis attacked anyway, and tried very hard to sink the ship without
any survivors while concealing their own identity. They were aided and abetted
by US President Lyndon Johnson and Defense Secretary Robert McNamara, who
personally recalled separate flights of fighters launched from the 6th Fleet’s
aircraft carriers USS Saratoga and USS America, fighters whose arrival over the
USS Liberty would have saved most American lives and cost the Israelis a number
of aircraft and motor torpedo boats.
What Johnson and McNamara did is appalling. As a Marine who served in Vietnam, I
have always despised them for their arrogance and incompetence. After
understanding their role in the USS Liberty tragedy, I now despise them twice
over for their cowardice and their dereliction of duty, and for giving
precedence to a domestic Jewish lobby and their own political interests over the
lives of Americans in uniform.
At the very least, both were indictable accessories after the fact in the murder
at sea of 34 Americans and a breach of international law, in open violation of
their own oaths of office.
So why did the Israelis do it? One possibility is that for them, it was simply
business as usual. Israel has a long history of attacking anything in its path –
a civilian airliner, UN posts and officials, refugee camps, hospitals, the lot —
and then denying culpability, so the question is not "why," but "why not?"
Another was to dispose of inconvenient witnesses to the murder of Egyptian
prisoners and civilians at El Arish.
A third was to cloak their strategy of involving Jordan so as to take East
Jerusalem & the West Bank.
And a fourth was to show other Arab countries that they had such influence in
the US that they could do it and get away with it, and perhaps involve the US
militarily on their side.
Any of these would have sufficed. What is important to note is that the Israelis
had no qualms about deliberately killing Americans and concealing their own
identity, doubtless hoping to bring the US in on their side openly attacking
Egypt — they won handily anyway, but they could not be certain of doing so at
the beginning of the war. It is something to keep in mind as a possible
precedent when we look later at the attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001
and made the US an active belligerent intent on destroying Israel’s enemies.
The tale of the USS Liberty needs to reach the American people. It needs to
reach them in a medium that will convey the calculated nature of the attack and
the outrage it should evoke.
And it should conclude with the statements of so many people in positions of
authority at the time who said categorically that the attack was deliberate, and
of survivors who lost shipmates there and likewise are convinced that the attack
was deliberate and that their own government abandoned them at the time of the
attack, and betrayed them afterwards.
Few events are so calculated to enrage Americans as the image of a US ship being
deliberately attacked and Americans being killed and wounded by a supposed ally,
for its own local purposes.
That this "ally’s" influence in the US government was so great that a US
president ordered back fighters whose arrival would have prevented most of the
200 casualties on the Liberty from occurring would compound that outrage.
And that this influence allowed Israel both to evade retribution at the time and
to conceal knowledge of what happened from the American people, would add insult
to compound outrage.
This is the factually accurate message Americans need to see and hear, and it is
a message that could impact sharply on what members of Congress — whose jobs
depend on votes even more than they do on Jewish money — would be prepared to do
to or for Israel. It could also give President Obama political room for
diplomatic maneuver IF he seriously would like to reorient the way the US does
its business in the Middle East.
AIPAC, its cohorts and the Hasbara crowd will howl. There will be the usual
flurry of fabrications, denials, falsehoods, fear mongering, character
assassination, and disinformation that is their specialty. But at the end of the
day, more and more Americans will see graphic portrayals of an American ship
attacked — and especially of uniformed Americans killed and wounded — by a
foreign country named Israel, whose domestic clout within the United States in
1967 allowed them to do it with impunity, and whose extended clout since that
time has already produced one American tragedy (9/11), taken the US into two
wars (Afghanistan and Iraq) and is pointing the US towards two more wars (Iran
And there is a good chance that a growing number of Americans will say, "Enough!
Never again…." and make things happen. Let us begin.
Alan Sabrosky (Ph.D, University of Michigan) is a ten-year US Marine Corps veteran and a graduate of the
US Army War College. He can be contacted at
Article nr. 54924 sent on 08-jun-2009