The Liberty Incident

The Liberty Incident
Vol: 113 Issue: 25 Friday, February 25, 2011

To my way of thinking, one of the most bizarre and conclusive signs that we are now living in the last days is not so much the existence of Israel as it is the white-hot hatred of Israel and all things Israeli – and I have mused about it on more than one occasion.

Of course, that serves as an open invitation to start bombarding my email box with reasons for hating Israel,  as my correspondents see it, together with an invitation to refute the proffered evidence.  

The most commonly cited reason offered by my correspondents for getting me to join them in hating Israel is the Israeli attack on the USS Liberty that killed thirty-four American sailors in 1967.

The Liberty Incident isn’t a myth.  It really did happen. Given the potential for yet another war in the region that may involve the US Navy in the very near future, this may be a good time to revisit the Liberty incident.

The sequence of events is as follows. 

In early June of 1967, at the onset of the Six Day War, the Pentagon sent the USS Liberty from Spain into international waters off the coast of Gaza to monitor the progress of Israel’s attack on the Arab states.

The USS Liberty was a lightly-armed surveillance ship. Only hours after the Liberty arrived it was spotted by the Israeli military. The IDF sent out reconnaissance planes to identify the ship.

A few hours later more planes came. These were Israeli Mirage III fighters, armed with rockets and machine guns. The fighters then opened fire on the ship with rockets and machine guns.

A few minutes later a second wave of planes streaked overhead, French-built Mystere jets, which not only pelted the ship with gunfire but also with napalm bomblets, coating the deck with the flaming jelly. By now, the Liberty was on fire and dozens were wounded and killed.

The Liberty’s radio team tried to issue a distress call, but discovered the frequencies had been jammed by the Israeli planes with what one communications specialist called “a buzzsaw sound.”

Finally, an open channel was found and the Liberty got out a message it was under attack to the USS America, the Sixth Fleet’s large aircraft carrier.

Two F-4s left the carrier to come to the Liberty’s aid. Apparently, the jets were armed only with nuclear weapons. When word reached the Pentagon, Defense Secretary Robert McNamara became irate and ordered the jets to return.

Following the Israeli fighter jet attack, three Israeli attack boats approached the Liberty. Two torpedoes were launched at the Liberty. One tore a 40-foot wide hole in the hull, killing more than a dozen American sailors.

After more than two hours of unremitting assault, the Israelis abruptly halted their attack. One of the torpedo boats approached the Liberty. An officer asked in English over a bullhorn: “Do you need any help?”

The Liberty’s wounded commander reportedly replied with an unprintable expletive.

Within three weeks, the Navy put out a 700-page report, exonerating the Israelis, claiming the attack had been accidental and that the Israelis had pulled back as soon as they realized their mistake.

Was it?


The attack on the USS Liberty has been surrounded by myth and conspiracy theory for more than forty years.  According to my correspondents, the attack was no mistake. The Israelis knew they were attacking an American ship.

That raises a number of questions, not the least of which is ‘why?’  Why would Israel repeatedly attack an American vessel?

The only conspiracist argument that seemingly answered the ‘why’ question was that the Liberty was spying on Israel, and Israel tried to destroy it to keep whatever the Liberty found out a secret.

But since most of the Liberty’s crew survived, as did the ship itself, if the US had found out anything damaging about Israel, it seems logical that we’d know what it was.

Nobody, not even the crew, produced any evidence that Liberty’s mission was to spy on the Israelis. It was simply assumed to be true since it seemed to offer a partial answer to the ‘why’ questions.

In 2004 a newly declassified volume of historical papers from the Johnson Administration was released to the public, including files on the Liberty Incident.

Along with the release of the documents, the historian for the top-secret National Security Agency said the available evidence “strongly suggested” Israel did not know it was bombarding an American ship.

The US Navy reached that same conclusion in 1967, but the explanation was widely rejected by the conspiracist view as being ‘a coverup’.  

So, “Why would Israel attack a US ship?” we can add the question, “Why would the US Navy want to cover it up?”   The one conclusion that none of them seem to accept is the obvious one. 

It was an accident and there was no cover-up.  For the Jew-haters, that’s not an option

While the document dump  ddn’t reveal what the Liberty WAS doing in the area, they do reveal that the bulk of linguists on board spoke Arabic or Russian and the ship had no Hebrew translators to monitor Israeli communications in real time.

If the mission was to spy on Israel, it was poorly equipped for the job. On the other hand, the event has to be seen in its historical context.

The Russians were involved in arming the Arabs — the Cold War was at its height, and the Six Days War could conceivably have been the spark that launched a nuclear world war with the Russians.

Having Russian and Arabic translators aboard fits the known historical scenario.

The most significant documents, transcripts of tapes of communications between an Israeli air controller and helicopter pilots sent to rescue the wounded from the attack showed that the Israeli rescue pilots first identified the ship as Egyptian and gradually realized, after spotting a US flag, that the ship was American.

The editor of the declassified files, Harriet Schwar wrote in the executive summary of incident,

“A follow-up CIA memo on June 21st noted that the Liberty had been identified prior to the attacks but concluded that the Israelis were not aware at the time of the attack that they were attacking a US ship. It concluded that the attack was not made in malice, but was by mistake, representing gross negligence. The Defense Intelligence Agency reached a similar conclusion.”

David Hatch, the National Security Agency Historian, said of the intercepted communications of the rescue pilots:

“While falling short of proof, the intercepts to me suggest strongly the Israeli attackers did not know they were aiming deadly fire at a vessel belonging to the United States. The intercepted communications between the air controller at Hatzor and helicopters dispatched in the wake of the attack show a progressive reversal of perception on their part.”

There is also the sequence of events to consider. Earlier in the morning of June 8, the Israelis had surveyed and identified a ship in the area as the USS Liberty. A neutral green marker was placed on a model to represent the Liberty’s position.

Two hours later, the new documents reveal, the marker was removed since it was assumed that the ship’s position would have changed by then and a new senior Israeli official came on duty who was not informed of the Liberty’s presence in the area.

The removal of the marker, a miscalculation of the speed at which the Liberty was traveling that would have indicated it was not a warship, and a breakdown in communication between the Israeli Navy and Army were all clearly Israeli errors that contributed to orders to attack the ship.

In addition, there remains no credible motive for the Israelis to attack a United States vessel. As previously noted, Israel didn’t have a lot of friends apart from the US. It would have been an act of insanity for them to attack the US deliberately.

Why is a friendly fire incident still news after more than forty-four years?  Because it provides a good reason to hate Israel, for those who can’t find a reason on their own. 

It is hard to get Americans to hate Israel, since so many of its citizens are themselves American. But images of Israeli pilots ruthlessly strafing an American-flagged warship off the coast of Gaza will do it.

Israel’s existence in these last days is a constant reminder to this sin sick world that God is still in charge.  That is what the Chosen people were chosen for ­– to reveal God to the Gentile nations.

As an example to the heathen nations of the existence of God. Which also makes them a prime target for those who refuse to acknowledge Him and an excuse for hating anyone who does.

For two thousand years, the Jews have been hated and rejected by every nation in which they sought refuge. ‘The wandering Jew’ is a ‘proverb and a byword among all nations’, exactly as foretold by the Hebrew prophets.

The Jews were chosen by God to be the people from whom He would send His Redeemer, Jesus, but paradoxically, the Jews were also blinded to that fact by God Himself.

Paul says it was for us,the Gentiles,  so that salvation could be open to ALL mankind, Jew or Gentile.  Rather than hating Jews, Christians should understand the debt that imposes on us.

“For I would not, brethren, that ye should be ignorant of this mystery, lest ye should be wise in your own conceits; that blindness in part is happened to Israel, until the fulness of the Gentiles be come in.” Romans 11:25

After all, had the Jews accepted Jesus as Messiah at the First Advent, Daniel’s 70th Week would have been fulfilled 2000 years ago. There would have been no Church Age, nor a reason FOR a Church Age.  We would not be saved – we wouldn’t have even been born. 

Daniel’s 70th Week is called by Jeremiah “the time of Jacob’s Trouble”.  Zechariah says that in the last days, Israel will have no friends at all.

Zechariah 12:3 says that, by the end of the Tribulation Period, ALL the people of the world would be gathered against Israel and Jerusalem.

Did the Israelis deliberately attack the USS Liberty? There is no discernible reason why they would, neither is there any credible evidence that indicates that they did.

 But it does provide one more reason to hate Israel. And one more bit of proof that any excuse will do. Even one incident, forty-four years ago, in a war zone during the heat of battle.

Not that those already so inclined really need one.

“For when these things begin to come to pass . . .”


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About Pete Garcia

Christian, father, husband, veteran, pilot, and sinner saved by grace. I am a firm believer in, and follower of Jesus Christ. I am Pre-Trib, Dispensational, and Non-Denominational (but I lean Southern Baptist).

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