Keith's NO EMPIRE Blog

A radical dissident perspective on various topics. Comments welcome at

Sunday, December 12, 2010

USS Liberty Revisited

“Israel must be like a mad dog, too dangerous to bother.” (Moshe Dayan)

In his 2008 book, Guilt by Association, Jeff Gates briefly discusses the 1967 Israeli attack on the USS Liberty intelligence ship, and the cover-up of the intentional nature of the attack. His focus is on Admiral McCain’s (Senator John McCain’s father) complicity in the cover-up, and how this might relate to Presidential candidate McCain’s positions and policies regarding Israel. I am not going to get into that, rather, I am going to attempt to logically infer what occurred: why the attack and why the cover-up.

Let us begin by noting that it is beyond reasonable doubt that on 6/8/67, the Israeli navy and air force attacked the USS Liberty with the intent to sink the ship and kill the crew, knowing that it was an American “spy” ship. The questions remain as to why the attack and why the cover-up? Barring a complete declassification of pertinent materials and a full disclosure, we can only make educated guesses, however, we should be able to eliminate some illogical conjecture.

Let’s start with the why. I would like to begin by eliminating the preposterous notion that Israel attempted to sink the ship (in some versions with LBJ collusion) in order to blame the Egyptians and rally US support. First of all, Israel already had US support and, in fact, a US “green light” for the 1967 war, provided they didn’t go too far and precipitate a superpower conflict. Secondly, the nature of the attack was such that only Israel had the capability of doing it, hence, would fool no one. Had they wanted to blame Egypt, a single low level, high speed strafing run by a single fighter plane coming from and returning in the direction of Egypt would have been much more appropriate. No, there was no real attempt to hide the source of the attack, which was vindictive, the actions of a “mad dog, too dangerous to bother.”

Then why? Israel was in the process of doing things (executing war prisoners), and about to do things (invade Syria and occupy the Golan Heights) which Moshe Dayan (who ordered the attack on the Liberty) didn’t want the US to be aware of and possibly interfere with. He didn’t want a US spy ship in the area. Initially, when the Liberty was ordered into the area, they had requested an escort which was denied. Two days before the attack, however, the Joint Chiefs of Staff ordered Admiral McCain to reposition the Liberty 100 miles farther out, away from the combat zone. Why the change? Did they receive a back channel message from the Israeli military that the ship would not be tolerated and would be attacked unless moved? Admiral McCain never implemented the order, and the ship was attacked with vengeful fury. Subsequently, on another occasion, Dayan threatened to shoot down US reconnaissance planes and the flights were halted.

Why the cover-up? The primary reason has to do with geo-strategy. Israel performed a great service to US imperial strategy by its crushing defeat of Nasser and Nasserism during the six day war. Prior to the war, there was great concern that the secular nationalists who had overthrown the corrupt, pro-Western monarchies, would eventually form a united pan-Arabian front which would effectively take control of the Middle East’s oil reserves, Washington’s worst nightmare. Israel’s decisive victory made it a valuable strategic asset for Washington (at least in 1967) which would not be jeopardized by the attack on the Liberty. Empire doesn’t allow concern over its “cannon fodder” to interfere with its strategic objectives. Additionally, what if a warning was received and assurances given, but not implemented? How to explain that? It is critical to know why the ship was ordered out of the area, and why the order was not implemented. The official excuse of an equipment/procedural mishap seems far fetched and too convenient to be credible. Surely our military is not that inept in areas of critical importance. As for the “Israel lobby,” while the lobby aided and abetted the cover-up, I find it extremely unlikely that in 1967 it was the primary reason for it occurring. The lobby wasn’t as strong in 1967 as now, and is as much an Imperial lobby as an Israel lobby in any event.