Attack on the Liberty

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I read the book Attack on the Liberty by James Ennes, an officer of the USS Liberty, a vessel which was attacked by the Israelis in June 1967 and who was aboard during the attack; according to him and every other member of the crew that survived, there was no way the Israelis could have mistaken their ship for an Egyptian destroyer or freighter as the Israelis claimed. The ship does not resemble a destroyer or any other type of warship in any way, and besides a couple of .50 caliber machine guns, it carried no other weapons. Although it was once a cargo ship and could have easily been mistaken for one, the array of antennas alone strongly suggested it was an intelligence-gathering vessel, which indeed it was. However, its paint scheme, large U.S. flag flying, and the large hull ID (in the Liberty's case, AGTR-5) painted in large characters on both sides of the ship's bow should have left no doubt it was a U.S. Navy ship. Several Israeli aircraft flew low and slow over the Liberty before it was attacked, and the weather was crystal clear and the sea was calm in all directions for many miles. The Liberty itself was cruising at five knots until it was attacked, which is very slow even for a civilian freighter. Warships typically go much faster than that, even when cruising, and especially when in a war zone.


After saying that, the ship, being as vulnerable as it was, should have never been so close to the war zone in the first place. A message was transmitted ordering it to move out at least 100 miles from the coastline, but the message wasn't received by the Liberty until after the attack was over. The U.S. had a habit of placing highly vulnerable spy ships dangerously close to hostile areas, as we found out again in 1968, when the North Koreans seized the USS Pueblo. Although the attack on the Liberty was bad enough, the North Koreans (and the Soviets) got an intelligence and propaganda windfall from the Pueblo incident. The Pueblo is held by the North Koreans to this day. Back in 2001, a U.S. spy plane was forced down on Hainan Island (a Red Chinese territory), which, although not comparable to the Pueblo incident, once again underscored the risks of exposing ships, aircraft, and their crews on intelligence-gathering missions in such close proximity to their targets. The Iranians captured a top-secret (not anymore!) stealth drone that apparently had a mechanical failure and essentially glided right into their hands a couple of years ago, which they undoubtedly learned much from.


In fairness, it is not uncommon for neutral ships to be attacked by one or more warring parties when they are in a war zone, or ships being attacked by "friendly" aircraft or ships by accident. One of the reasons the U.S. entered WW1 was the re-introduction by the Germans of unrestricted submarine warfare which resulted in numerous American ships being sunk or damaged, and several U.S. Navy ships were attacked and sunk by the Germans prior to a formal declaration of war (by Germany, on December 11, 1941). The USS Panay, a small river gunboat, was sunk by the Japanese in 1937, and the USS Stark was nearly sunk by the Iraqis in 1987, with the loss of 37 lives. However, neither of those incidents remains nearly as controversial as the attack on the Liberty, and both the U.S. and the Israelis have been less than forthright in providing explanations for a seemingly obvious and egregious attack on a vessel that was in no way engaged in hostile action or trying to conceal itself. If the Israeli intent was to sink the ship, they actually performed very poorly; 30mm cannons, rockets, and napalm are far from ideal anti-ship weapons, and their torpedo boats fired five or six torpedoes, with only one hitting the ship, although that one tore a huge hole in the ship and caused the majority of the deaths during the attacks. It’s been said that the U.S. and the U.K. have a “special relationship”. I guess the relationship between Israel and the U.S. is “even more special.”




Jeffrey Kelly Added Oct 15, 2017 - 3:55pm
It is definitely a black mark on Isreali-US relations.
Michael B. Added Oct 15, 2017 - 4:21pm
It was NOT an accident, that's for sure.
Ari Silverstein Added Oct 16, 2017 - 2:55pm
How has Israel been less than forthright?  It happened in during the Six Day War where every ship not sailing an Israeli flag was on the attack against Israel.  Besides, the ship should have never been in the waters where it was destroyed.  Israel apologized for the incident, sent reparations to the families of the dead and wounded and paid for the damage to the Liberty.  What else would you like to know?  How has the United States been less than forthright?
Jeffrey Kelly Added Oct 16, 2017 - 3:37pm
"In May 1968, the Israeli government paid US$3.32 million (equivalent to US$22.9 million in 2016) to the U.S. government in compensation to the families of the 34 men killed in the attack. In March 1969, Israel paid a further $3.57 million ($23.3 million in 2016) to the men who had been wounded. In December 1980, it agreed to pay $6 million ($17.4 million in 2016) as the final settlement for material damage to Liberty itself plus 13 years of interest.[8]"
Lady Sekhmetnakt Added Oct 16, 2017 - 6:16pm
Yes good article Michael, no doubt it was not an accident. Like John said the question is why was it done. 
Michael B. Added Oct 16, 2017 - 11:37pm
@ MJ - Thanks!
Michael B. Added Oct 16, 2017 - 11:37pm
@ John G. - One of the few times we more-or-less agree, lol!
Michael B. Added Oct 16, 2017 - 11:38pm
@ Ari - No comment, you're WAY too biased.
Michael B. Added Oct 16, 2017 - 11:39pm
@ Jeffrey - True, but you're focusing on the back end. I'm more concerned about the front end.
Michael B. Added Oct 16, 2017 - 11:41pm
@ Lady Sekh - Thank you! Exactly...the age-old question...."Why?"
Michael B. Added Oct 17, 2017 - 1:34am
By the way...unless you were present, I highly suggest you read the book before foaming at the mouth. One of the more interesting factors of this story is that the CO of the ship was awarded the Medal of Honor, which is normally awarded while fighting an ENEMY.
Shane Laing Added Oct 17, 2017 - 4:18am
Intelligence-gathering vessels were not hard to spot in the 80s.  Many antennae was usually a big clue.  Russian spy ships could regularly be seen in the Atlantic especially if NATO exercises were taking place.
Michael B. Added Oct 17, 2017 - 8:21pm
Shane, no kidding! The ubiquitous "trawlers", and trawlers they were, but fishing of a different sort. Regardless of their nation, they may as well have had big letters on both sides of the hull: Я шпионский корабль...I am a Spy Ship.
Billy Roper Added Oct 18, 2017 - 9:49am
The attack on the Liberty was just a Cohencidence.
Zachery d Taylor Added Oct 18, 2017 - 10:11am
Mostly they just try to bury this story and ignore it hoping no one will remember it like many other foreign policy blunders or atrocities. It's hard to imagine why Israeli policy has done a total reversal, before WWII they were targets of unreasonable prejudice and the "Antisemitism" label was justifiably prejudicial; now there's still some rabid antisemitism but a lot of the accusations are justifiable complaints against Palestinian oppression or the attack on the Liberty. 
Jeffry Gilbert Added Oct 18, 2017 - 11:05am
That nasty little tribe on the Eastern Mediterranean is no friend at all to anyone, anything, any country, any race, any religion.