Article Image

The Day Israel Attacked America

Written by Subject: Israel

The Day Israel Attacked America

by Stephen Lendman

One ally attacking another willfully is unheard of. Israel violated its special relationship.

What James Petras called "the first (instance) in modern history in which the imperial country cover(ed) up a deliberate major military assault by a supposed ally."

He referred to the 1967 USS Liberty attack. An intelligence-gathering ship. On June 8. In international waters. About 25.5 nautical miles northwest of Egypt's Sinai Peninsula.

During Israel's Six Day War. Killing 34 crew members. Wounding 171 others. Causing severe vessel damage.

Deployed to monitor belligerents' communications. After Israel's premeditated attack on Egypt, Jordan, Syria and Iraq.

In August 1982, Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin admitted Israel had a choice, saying:

"The Egyptian Army concentrations in the Sinai approaches (did) not prove that (President Gamal Abdel) Nasser was really about to attack us."

"We must be honest with ourselves. We decided to attack him."

In February 1968, future Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin (1974 - 77 and 1992 - 95) told the French newspaper Le Monde:

"I do not believe Nasser wanted war. The two divisions which he sent into Sinai on May 14 would not have been enough to unleash an offensive against Israel. He knew it and we knew it."

In 1978, Israeli Air Force Commander General Mordechai Hod said:

"Sixteen years of planning had gone into those initial eighty minutes. We lived with the plan. We slept on the plan. We ate the plan. Constantly we perfected it."

In April 1972, IDF chief General Haim Barlev said:

"We were not threatened with genocide on the eve of the six-day war, and we had never thought of such a possibility."

Other Israeli leaders and generals voiced similar sentiments. Israel wasn't threatened. It attacked non-threatening Arab states. Willfully. Aggressively. Without just cause. Lawlessly.

Clear naked aggression. Including against America. Getting away with cold-blooded murder. Not for the first or last time.

Then Defense Secretary Robert McNamara lied. Calling it a case of "mistaken identity." Knowing precisely what happened and why.

Retired Joint Chiefs Chairman Admiral Thomas Moorer later called the incident "one of the classic all-American coverups." One of many times Washington disgracefully alibied for Israeli high crimes.

Israel knew Liberty's identity. It flew a clearly visible US flag. Good weather conditions made it easy to spot.

Israeli warplanes circled overhead before attacking. At times low enough for US sailors to wave to Israeli pilots. They waved back.

On June 5, Israel attacked Egypt, Jordan, Syria and Iraq. At the time, then IDF Chief of Staff Yitzhak Rabin told US naval attache Commander Ernest Carl Castle Israeli forces would sink unidentified ships.

He requested US vessels stay away from Israel's coastline. Or at least report their exact position.

US sources said no inquiry was made until after LIberty's attack ended. US Secretary of State Dean Rusk asked Washington's Israeli ambassador, Walworth Barbour, for "urgent confirmation" of Israel's statement.

He responded saying "(n)o request for info on US ships operating off Sinai was made until after Liberty incident."

"Had Israelis made such an inquiry it would have been forwarded immediately to the chief of naval operations and other high naval commands and repeated to" the State Department.

When war began, Liberty commander, Captain William McGonagle, asked US Sixth Fleet Vice Admiral William I. Martin to dispatch  destroyer help.

An armed escort. For Liberty's protection. An auxiliary communications center. Martin replied:

"Liberty is a clearly marked United States ship in international waters, not a participant in the conflict and not a reasonable subject for attack by any nation. Request denied."

At the same time, he promised US warplanes would respond in 10 minutes in case of willful or inadvertent attack.

No response came. Liberty was on its own. Virtually defenseless against Israeli air and sea power.

Throughout the morning of June 8, official testimonies and Liberty's deck log confirmed Israeli warplanes close monitoring.

When attack began, it was following its signal-intercept mission course about 25.5 nautical miles off Sinai's coastline. At about five knots.

Israeli forces were ordered to fire on any unidentified vessels proceeding at over 20 knots. At the time, a speed only warships could attain.

At around 2:00PM local time, two Israeli warplanes arrived at Liberty's location. Formation leader, Captain Iftach Spector, communicated information of its position to nearby Israeli torpedo boats.

He and other Israeli pilots lied. Claiming no distinguishable ship markings or flag. At the same time, chief Israeli air controller Lt. Col Shmuel Kislev authorized IDF warplanes to attack.

Liberty commander Captain McGonagle requested urgent Sixth Fleet help, saying:

"Under attack by unidentified jet aircraft, require immediate assistance." None arrived.

At around 2:35PM, an Israeli torpedo struck Liberty. On its starboard side. Creating a 40-foot-wide hole in its hull.

Killing 25 servicemen. Wounding dozens of others. Marine staff sergeant Bryce Lockwood later said he'd "never deny that God kept Liberty afloat."

Four other Israeli torpedoes missed their target. Its gunships strafed Liberty at close range.

At about 4:00PM, Israel contacted Washington's Tel Aviv embassy. Claiming it mistakenly attacked Liberty.

Crew members somehow kept it afloat. Despite severe damage. Later met by US destroyers USS Davis and Massey as well as cruiser USS Little Rock.

Providing medical help. Escorting Liberty to Malta. For interim repairs. Completed in July. After which Liberty returned to America.

Then decommissioned in June 1968. Struck from Naval Vessel Register listings. Part of Washington's coverup and denial.

Later transferred to the US Maritime Administration (MARAD). In December 1970. Then sold for scrap in 1973.

On June 10, 1967, Secretary of State Dean Rusk told Israel's ambassador:

"At the time of the attack, the USS Liberty was flying the American flag and its identification was clearly indicated in large white letters and numerals on its hull."

"Experience demonstrates that both the flag and the identification number of the vessel were readily visible from the air."

"Accordingly, there is every reason to believe that the USS Liberty was identified, or at least her nationality determined, by Israeli aircraft approximately one hour before the attack."

"The subsequent attack by the torpedo boats, substantially after the vessel was or should have been identified by Israeli military forces, manifests the same reckless disregard for human life."

According to Political Science Professor George Lenczowski:

"It was significant that, in contrast to his secretary of state, President Johnson fully accepted the Israeli version of the tragic incident."

Maintaining strong US/Israeli relations mattered more. So did protecting his own political interests. In case he chose to run for reelection in November 1968.

In later naval court of inquiry testimony, McGonagle said:

During "the latter moments of the air attack, it was noted that three high speed boats were approaching (Liberty) from the northeast on a relative bearing of approximately 135 (degrees) at a distance of about 15 (nautical) miles."

"The ship at the time was still on (westward) course 283 (degrees) true, speed unknown, but believed to be in excess of five knots."

McGonagle "believed that the time of initial sighting of the torpedo boats…was about (2:20PM).

Approaching "boats appeared to be in a wedge type formation with the center boat the lead point of the wedge."

"Estimated speed of the boats was about 27 to 30 knots (50 to 56 km/hour). It "appeared that they were approaching the ship in a torpedo launch attitude."

They flew Israeli flags. Liberty's identity was clear and unmistakable. McGonagle later received Medal of Honor recognition.

Virtually always presented by presidents ceremonially at the White House. This time breaking with tradition. Awarding it in privately. At Washington's Navy Yard. By the Secretary of the Navy.

Other Liberty survivors were decorated. Without mentioning willful Israeli aggression. Terry Halbardier got a Silver Star. For repairing a damaged antenna during intense Israeli strafing.

The US Naval Court of Inquiry claimed no responsibility "to rule on the culpability of the attackers, and no evidence was heard from the attacking nation."

It lied saying "available evidence combines to indicate a case of mistaken identity."

At the same time, it found "heroism displayed by the commanding officer, (as well as) officers and men of the Liberty was exceptional."

A Joint Chief of Staff's report contains evidence relating only to communication system failures. Nothing about clear Israeli culpability.

A June 21, 1967 CIA memorandum said "(t)he attack was not made in malice toward the US and was by mistake…"

"(B)ut the failure of the IDF Headquarters and the attacking aircraft to identify the Liberty and the subsequent attack by torpedo boats were both incongruous and indicative of gross negligence."

A CIA informant said Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Dayan personally ordered Liberty's attack. He wanted it sunk. All crew members killed. A redacted report said in part:

The unnamed source "said that Dayan personally ordered the attack on the ship and that one of his generals adamantly opposed the action and said, 'This is pure murder.' One of the admirals who was present also disapproved of the action, and it was he who ordered it stopped and not Dayan."

The report remains classified. According to an insider, "(s)o as not to embarrass Israel." Even 47 years later.

LBJ's Intelligence Advisory Board Chairman Clark Clifford issued a damning report. Containing "all information on the subject." Discussing "the question of Israeli culpability."

Calling what happened an "unprovoked attack." Constituting "a flagrant act of gross negligence for which the Israeli Government should be held completely responsible, and the Israeli military personnel involved should be punished."

He later fell from grace. Adopting the official line. About a tragic Israeli mistake.

Defense Secretary Robert McNamara lied to Congress. Claiming no "evidence of a conscious intent to attack a US vessel."

Two Israeli inquiry reports whitewashed what happened. Claiming Liberty was believed to be an Egyptian vessel. Because of failed US/Israeli communications.

Hours before attacking, IDF naval headquarters knew Liberty was "an electromagnetic audio-surveillance ship of the US Navy."

It lied claiming information was lost. "(N)ever passed along to the ground controllers who directed the air attack nor to the crews of the three Israeli torpedo boats."

Israeli Judge Yerushalmi conducted his own fact-finding inquiry. He claimed no "deviation from the standard of reasonable conduct which would justify committal of anyone for trial."

In other words, naked Israeli aggression was OK. Case closed!

Unresolved questions remain. At the time of the attack. Secretary of State Dean Rusk said he "was never satisfied with the Israeli explanation."

"Their sustained attack to disable and sink Liberty precluded an assault by accident or some trigger-happy local commander," he maintained.

"Through diplomatic channels we refused to accept their explanations. I didn't believe them then, and I don't believe them to this day. The attack was outrageous."

Navy Captain Ward Boston was US Court of Inquiry senior counsel. In 2002, he said C of I's findings reflected coverup and denial.

Israel willfully attacked a clearly identified US ship, he stressed. He called denying it an "insidious attempt to whitewash the facts." He wrote in part, saying:

"The evidence was clear. Both Admiral Kidd and I believed with certainty that this attack, which killed 34 American sailors and injured 172 others, was a deliberate effort to sink an American ship and murder its entire crew."

"Each evening, after hearing testimony all day, we often spoke our private thoughts concerning what we had seen and heard."

"I recall Admiral Kidd repeatedly referring to the Israeli forces responsible for the attack as 'murderous bastards.' "

"It was our shared belief, based on the documentary evidence and testimony we received first hand, that the Israeli attack was planned and deliberate, and could not possibly have been an accident."

US intelligence agencies expert James Bamford believes Israel attacked Liberty to suppress its high crimes against peace. Including massacring hundreds of Egyptian prisoners.

NSA intercepts showed Israeli pilots clearly knew they attacked a US ship, said Bamford.

Israeli aggression continued for over an hour. Liberty was severely damaged. A smoking hulk. Listing at about 10 degrees.

Lucky to stay afloat. With two-thirds of its crew dead or injured. Two US destroyers took 16 hours to arrive. To provide help.

Coverup and denial began immediately. Survivors were ordered to remain silent about what happened.

Israel seized Syria's Golan Heights one day after attacking Liberty. Had it remained operable, it might have gotten clear evidence of willful Israeli aggression. Countering IDF lies.

Israel's Six Day War bonded Washington and Tel Aviv more closely together. Politically. Economically. Militarily.

Both countries partner in each other's genocidal crimes. Their special relationship reflects pure evil.

Advancing their imperial interests. Threatening world peace. Humanity's greatest menace by far.

Stephen Lendman lives in Chicago. He can be reached at

His new book as editor and contributor is titled "Flashpoint in Ukraine: US Drive for Hegemony Risks WW III."

Visit his blog site at

Listen to cutting-edge discussions with distinguished guests on the Progressive Radio News Hour on the Progressive Radio Network.

It airs three times weekly: live on Sundays at 1PM Central time plus two prerecorded archived programs.

Join us on our Social Networks:


Share this page with your friends on your favorite social network: