Sunday, July 13, 2008

USS Liberty Incident

The USS Liberty incident was an attack on a U.S. Navy technical research ship, USS Liberty, in international waters north of the northern Sinai Peninsula coast, about 25.5 nautical miles northwest of the minaret at El Arish[1](p.26), by Israeli fighter planes and torpedo boats on June 8, 1967, during the Six-Day War. The attack, which killed 34 U.S. servicemen and wounded at least 173, was the second deadliest against a U.S. Naval vessel since the end of World War II, surpassed only by the Iraqi Exocet missile attack on the USS Stark on May 17, 1987, and marked the single greatest loss of life by the U.S. intelligence community.
From Weapons : The International Game of Arms, Money and Diplomacy - Russell Warren Howe. Discussion of present Israeli war plans in the Middle East may be illuminated by reference to the past. The 1967 Israeli-initiated attack on Egypt is illustrative.

Although clearly warned by France's Charles de Gaulle to not initiate hostilities, and more obliquely warned by the US' Lyndon Johnson, Israel "launched the war on June 5, using French aircraft and largely French armor. It was a Pearl Harbor-style operation, destroying the Egyptian Air Force on the ground" [Howe, Russell Warren. Weapons: The International Game of Arms, Money and Diplomacy. N.Y: Doubleday, 1980. p. 523].

R.W. Howe's account expands on quickly-negotiated limits on the conflict. Israel promised the United States that its sole objective would be Egypt. To monitor this and other stipulations, the US moved its intelligence ship the USS Liberty into "the eastern Mediterraneun, to cover Arab and Israeli traffic.... Two hundred feet below the ship, on a parallel course, was its 'shadow' - the Polaris strategic submarine Andrew Jackson...." [Ibid., p.524].

Howe continues, "The first important thing the the [USS Liberty] NSA monitors learned was that the Israelis had cracked the Egyptian and Jordanian codes. From a relay station inside the swiftly captured northern region of Sinai, Israel was interrupting and retransmitting Cairo's messages to Amman [Jordan]. In spite of world reporting of the Israeli successes, soon to be backed up by television film, Cairo appeared to be telling Amman that the tide of war had turned. Three quarters of Israel's air force, the Israelis made the 'Egyptian' messages say, had been destroyed. The three hundred aircraft on Jordan's radar were Egyptian planes raiding Israel - not, as was really the case, Israeli planes returning unscathed from raids on Egypt. Cairo's anxious appeals to Jordan for help were transformed into an invitation to join in an assured victory and recapture West Jerusalem. Jordan's consequent participation in the war enabled Tel Aviv to seize East Jerusalem and the West Bank" [Ibid, pp. 524-525].

All this was discovered by the USS Liberty and communicated back to the United States. When Israel's Ambassador to the United States Avraham Harman subsequently pleaded that Israel was "resisting aggression," the US UnderSecretary of State Eugene Rostow "snapped back that the United States knew that Tel Aviv had lured [Jordan's King] Hussein into the conflict by cooking his communications. Harman...returned to the embassy and called his country. By then, it was midnight in Tel Aviv, but within hours the Israeli ministry of defense there had ordered aircraft to seek out the U.S. communications ship" [Ibid. p. 525]. That ship was the USS Liberty.

"American intelligence analysts now believe that the Israeli intention was complete destruction - a sinking with all hands. This could then be blamed on the Egyptians or the Russians, not only destroying a wartime nuisance, but also making Americans more sympathetic to Israel's cause" [Ibid. p.525]