Ports of Call » Politics/War » USS Liberty, Navy, Israel, Six day war, Controversy, Lyndon B. JohnsonUnveiling the Attack on the USS Liberty
The attack on the USS Liberty was intentional and mishandled.Text Size : A A |
n June 8th, 1967, in the midst of the Arab-Israeli Six Day War, the USS Liberty came under attack by Israeli air and naval forces in an event that would come to be known as 'The Liberty Incident.' The USS Liberty was a technical research vessel of the US Navy charged with collecting and processing foreign communications between Soviet and Arab militaries during the Six Day War. Official government reports from both Israel and the U.S. claim that the attack was non-deliberate and completely accidental.
While on a surveillance mission 15 miles off the coast of the Sinai Peninsula, the USS Liberty was attacked by Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) aircraft and motor torpedo boats at about 2 in the afternoon when a torpedo boat commander falsely identified the Liberty as the Egyptian freighter El Quseir. The commander quickly ordered an airstrike on the ship, and following the aerial attack, allowed for torpedo boats to close in and inflict further damage upon the Liberty, leaving a hole 40 feet wide in the hull of the ship. Ultimately thirty-four Americans were killed and 171 Americans wounded in the attack. Israel later apologized for the incident, explaining that its air and naval forces had simply mistaken the Liberty for the El Quseir, a much smaller Egyptian ship, and so the United States found no reason to continue probing such a matter. Several highly disputed aspects of the incident arising from such claims that a US flag was visible on the USS Liberty, the speed and size of the Liberty distinguished it from most ships native to the local waters of the area, and distinct ship markings on the Liberty's hull made it a clear U.S. vessel, have continued to stir however, making the unveiling of such a tragic "accident," to this day, all the more necessary.
In further defense, Israel claimed that the USS Liberty and the El Quseir, the Egyptian freighter they thought they were attacking, were not very distinct from each other. This claim stems from the fact that the USS Liberty, like the El Quseir, was a civilian freighter before it was refitted for military service. Upon closer examination however, it is clear that the USS Liberty and El Quseir were clearly distinguishable from each another. The most obvious difference is the size of the two ships; the El Quseir was 83 meters long whereas the USS Liberty was 139 meters long. The size difference alone should have made the IDF realize that a mistake had been made. Additionally, the El Quseir's on-deck apparatus such as smokestacks and pole-masts were slanted backward whereas the USS Liberty's apparatus were vertical, making the distinction between the two ships furthermore noticeable. Again, while the pilots could have mistaken the USS Liberty for the Egyptian ship from certain angles in the air, the torpedo boat captains were knowledgeable IDF naval officers who should have been able to realize their error, thus preventing the attack. And considering the fact that the initial reason for the Israeli boats' dispatch was to investigate an unidentified 'enemy' ship that was possibly shelling El Arish from the sea, for anyone, especially trained IDF Naval Officers, to mistake a refitted cargo ship like the USS Liberty for a ship capable of shooting shells 20 miles to El Arish is unbelievable.
Furthermore, the USS Liberty had very distinct markings on her hull. In large letters were the symbols "GTR-5" which identified the USS Liberty as a National Security Agency (NSA) intelligence vessel on the morning of the attack. Having knowledge of a US ship in the area, the pilots of the Israeli fighter bombers should have double checked to make sure they weren't attacking an ally. According to the Clifford report which was directed by Chairman of the President's Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board, Clark M. Clifford, "the Liberty's U.S. Navy distinguishing letters and number (GTR-5) were painted clearly on her bow." Also in the report was the statement that "the Liberty's name was clearly painted in English on her stern... [and so] the ship's configuration and her standard markings were clearly sufficient for reconnaissance aircraft and waterborne vessels to identify her correctly." If the ship's markings had been clear and legible as stated in the Clifford report, the officers aboard the torpedo boats should have been able to identify the USS Liberty as an American vessel before commencing such an attack, especially since the El Quseir would have had written on its hull, letters in Arabic.
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