Tuesday, June 8, 2010

USS Liberty

Today is the 43rd anniversary of the attack against the USS Liberty by elements of the military of one of our closest allies, Israel. I was 16 when it happened, and I vaguely remember the brief news stories about the event. For many of us then, I would assume, this was just some friendly fire mistake which was overshadowed by the much larger drama, the more gripping news story of the 1967 Israeli conflict with her Egyptian and Arab neighbors, the war pitting David against Goliath and ending in just 6 days. A tragic sidestory outmatched by the hero of the day, the unforgettable and striking figure of Moshe Dayan and his outmanned, outgunned, but not out-spirited defense corps. Indeed, it was a remarkable victory, the telling of which I'll leave to another more willing and able to analyze it.

All swept under the rug, hidden away, and it's better to let sleeping dogs lie. You won't find anything about it in this history, for instance. However, these days it seems to me that that rug is woefully overburdened by all the debris swept under it over the years. That poor rug now is leaking and demanding a thorough cleansing and airing out.

The story of the Liberty was resurrected for me when I was posting on a favorite message board about Operation Cast Lead last year and did some research. And now we have the recent story of the Gaza aid flotilla with a veteran of the Liberty aboard, Joe Meadors, whom I mentioned in my earlier post below.

1. Did the Israelis know that they were attacking an American ship?

Another reason why Lockwood is so certain that the attack was deliberate is because he watched Joe Meadors hoist three U.S. flags up a pole in an attempt to ensure that the Israeli pilots knew they were firing on a U.S. ship. "The Israelis claim they didn't see a U.S. flag, but they shot down two, and Joe raised three of them, since they kept firing on them," Lockwood explained. "They riddled the third with bullet holes, but it stayed up."

2. Did the US fleet in the area know about the attack and did it do anything to help the Liberty?

"The attack lasted 90 minutes, during which we got a message off to the 6th fleet asking for assistance, and we learned later, Joe Tully, commanding officer of the USS Saratoga, launched aircraft within minutes of the attack, but he told us later they were recalled before they reached the horizon. We found this out 20 years after the attack."
Meadors said he and his group, the USS Liberty Veterans Association, believe that Rear Adm. Lawrence Geis, the Sixth Fleet carrier division commander at the time of the attack, was following orders from Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara, who called off the Navy's rescue mission for the USS Liberty.

3. Did the Israeli government or their military intentionally order this attack or was it some weird foul-up in their chain of command?

This is where it's vague. The how and why have not been revealed. You can go to this site


to find some theories and opinions on the matter. You might mention this story to the next member of Congress you happen to run into, or even the President himself.

It's very hard to tell what will pop out from under that rug next.



  1. Given that 2 flags were knocked down and one was shot up, it does seem unlikely that the Israeli pilots continued to attack "by accident".

  2. Oh, the IDF knew exactly whom they were attacking, and for themselves, they had a pretty good reason, too.
    The 1967 war was a pre-emptive war, and at the time the U.S. was considered a..."player" in the Middle East...yeah, we were "sorta" on the side of the Israeli's, but for the most part the Isreali's still had the "it's us vs the world!" mentality.
    The US...at the time...was a useful tool for them.
    The Liberty, an intel ship, flying the US flag, was gathering information, and since the Israeli's were prepping for a "pre-emptive" strike...they weren't to sure which side the US may feed information too...so...the pin-pointedly attacked the American ship.

    When we didn't nuke their nation, the Israeli's later "apologized" for their "mistake."
    All true if one is willing to allow for dissembling, and distrust on the part of the Israeli's.

    I believe the IDF fighters strafed the life boats...a clear sign they wanted no survivors/witnesses to their pre-emptive attack against the Arabs...which the Liberty had plenty of.

    The bottom line is that we had more cause to rape and pillage Israel for that attack than we did Vietnam...just say'n.

  3. Netanyahu and the IAF commandant owe an in-person apology to the Liberty survivors, to the families of the non-survivors, and to the US Navy.

    And McNamara is a disgrace to America, he and Geis should come clean on their part in the Liberty fiascoe.

    That said, I do not agree on intent. We are not so pure ourselves on friendly fire incidents. It gets worse when dealing with allies or worse still when dealing with third party nationals in or near a combat area. Comms are a huge problem, as are identification of non-combatants. The flags sound incriminating, but I am not sure that even eagle-eyed, white-silk-scarfed USAF pilots :-) would see those flags during 300-mph strafing runs. Taking out antennas and masts and guns and everything else topside is a valid naval warfare tactic that the US Navy uses as well. It is done to blind and neuter a ship prior to the main strike. The days of torpedo planes and dive bombers going in alone (a la Midway) are long gone. Sorry if this goes against the conventional wisdom.

  4. How exactly were these airplanes able to 'shoot down' 2 flags? Has anyone ever heard of a jet pilot on a strafing run able to obtain such precision? Especially with old Mirage IIIs and Mysteres?

    Clearly many mistakes were involved...but on both sides.