This is the first time I’ve ever written publicly about the issue of the USS Liberty, the American espionage vessel that was attacked by Israeli forces during the Six-Day War.
I’ve never written about it before because there was scant substance to write about. The facts we have don’t extend much beyond this: Israeli planes attacked the Liberty, followed by a sea attack by an Israeli ship. The incident left 34 American sailors dead and 170 more injured, some severely. Two US squadrons were mobilized after the attack on the Liberty started and were then called back. Israel claimed the attack was a case of mistaken identity and apologized, and a US investigation was pursued, but only a quick one, which ended with American acceptance of Israel’s excuse and the matter was closed.
Today, we really don’t know much more than that. But the Chicago Tribune brought the incident back up this week, and so, despite the fact that the article really doesn’t shed any new light on the episode, I feel the urge to say something about this.
The attack on the Liberty has provided great fodder for conspiracy theorists for the past four decades. The surviving sailors who have spoken publicly have all been unanimous in rejecting the Israeli claim that they did not see the American flag flying on the ship. The one major point the Tribune article provides is much more conclusive evidence that indeed, the Israeli pilots were fully aware that they were attacking an American ship. This isn’t a big surprise, frankly; Israel’s explanation on this score was never all that credible. The Liberty was not off-course or in an unexpected place and there was no reason ever offered as to why the ship would not have been flying its colors.
But the conspiracy theorists have repeatedly used this incident to prove how much fealty the US gives to Israel, and frankly, that doesn’t make a lot of sense. The US commitment to Israel in 1967 was a lot more tenuous and more slender than it is today. There is no credible evidence that Israel would be able to get away with an intentional attack on an American ship in those days, even if one wants to argue that their influence is so great today that they could (a claim I would not agree with, as is obvious from my recent post on the Israel Lobby). Continue reading