Israel’s attack on the USS Liberty – The full story.
By Alan Hart. On Thursday 8 June 1967, Israeli air and naval forces attacked America’s most advanced spy ship, the U.S.S. Liberty, killing 34 of its crew and wounding 174. The lesson of this cold-blooded, murderous attack was that there is nothing the Zionist state might not do, to its friends as well as its enemies, in order to get its own way.
Forty five years on, thanks to the complicity of the mainstream media, the cover up ordered by President Johnson is still in place.
Two years ago, on New York’s Long Island, I had the pleasure and privilege of being the keynote speaker at the annual dinner of the Liberty Survivors Association. I told them I was aware that if the attack had gone completely according to the plan of the man who ordered it, Israeli Defence Minister Moshe Dayan, none of them would have survived.
I also told them that although I am an Englishman who had not served in any of his country’s armed services (because conscription was abolished by the time I was old enough to have served), we did have something in common – OUTRAGE that could not be expressed adequately in polite words at the continued suppression in America of the truth about Israel’s attack on the Liberty.
On the 45th anniversary of that attack, this post is providing the complete text of Chapter Two of the three-volume American edition of my book Zionism: The Real Enemy of the Jews. The chapter is titled The Liberty Affair – “Pure Murder” on a “Great Day”.
My American publisher expressed to me the view that it is “the most revealing, the most riveting and the most important chapter in the whole book.” My own view is that it assists real understanding of what the Zionist state of Israel is – a monster beyond control.
Here is the chapter, complete with source notes.
Israel insisted (as it still does) that its attack on the Liberty was an unfortunate “accident”, a case of “mistaken identity”.
The attack ought to have been a sensational, headline-grabbing news story, but beyond the fact that an accident had happened and that Israel had apologised, it did not get reported by America’s news organisations. It was too hot an issue for them to handle and pursue. If it had been an Arab attack on an American vessel it would have been an entirely different matter, of course. In that event there would have been saturation coverage with demands for retaliation, with Zionist and other pro-Israeli columnists and commentators setting the pace and tone.
About the attack and its aftermath – the Johnson administration’s cover-up led by the President himself – retired American Admiral Thomas L. Moorer, who was appointed Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) a month after the incident, was subsequently to say to former U.S. Congressman Paul Findley, “If it was written as fiction nobody would believe it.”
The attack itself, Admiral Moorer said to Findley, was “absolutely deliberate.” And the cover-up? “The clampdown was not actually for security reasons but for domestic political reasons. I don’t think there is any question about it. What other reasons could there have been? President Johnson was worried about the reaction of Jewish voters.” (For which read, I add, the awesome power of the Zionist lobby and its many stooges in Congress). The former Chairman of the JCS added: “The American people would be god damn mad if they knew what goes on.”
As it happened, the institutions of government in America did not succeed in keeping the truth covered up because there were eye-witnesses who would not be silenced. They were the survivors of the Liberty’s crew. The first prime source of the detailed information about the actual attack is the book Assault on the Liberty. It was written by Lieutenant James M. Ennes. He was the Officer of the Deck on the Liberty throughout the attack.
On 5 June 1982 there was a reunion of Liberty survivors in the Hotel Washington in Washington D.C. The guest speaker was retired Admiral Moorer. He told the survivors that he had “never been willing to accept the Israeli explanation that it was a case of mistaken identity.” He could not accept that Israeli pilots “don’t know how to identify ships.” It followed, he said, that there “must have been some other motive”, which he was confident “some day will be made public.”
Retired Admiral Moorer’s confidence has not yet been justified. Some of the official documents have been de-classified with the most sensitive (for which read most embarrassing) passages blacked out, but other official documents and reports remain classified, TOP SECRET, and are likely to remain so for as long as America’s pork-barrel politicians are frightened of offending Zionism.
The “motive” for the attack has to be deduced from what happened in the context of the whole war of June 1967 and Dayan’s determination to stop at nothing to create the Greater Israel of gut-Zionism’s mad dream. And the key to complete understanding is knowledge of the Liberty’s capabilities and what its mission was.
A question readers might like to keep in mind is this: When Dayan ordered the attack – he wanted the Liberty to be completely destroyed with the loss of all hands on board – who was the Israeli general who protested and said, “This is pure murder”?
The Liberty’s naval designation was AGTR-5, meaning that it was the fifth ship in a series undertaking “Auxiliary General Technical Research.” It was, in fact, a converted World War II Victory ship – the former Simmons Victory. It had been refitted by the NSA (National Security Agency) for use as a signals intelligence (SIGINT) “platform” – a floating listening post. It had a very sophisticated system of radio antennae including a “Big Ear” sonar-radio listening device with a clear capability range of over 500 miles. Up to that distance the Liberty could intercept virtually any form of wireless communication, including military and diplomatic traffic, telemetry data, rocket guidance and satellite control, among others. It could then decode and process the intercepted messages and relay them back to the NSA at Fort Meade, Maryland, via short-wave radio or through a very special communications system called TRSSCOM, using a 10,000-watt microwave signal bounced off the surface of the moon. The U.S.S. Liberty was America’s most advanced spy ship.
Below decks the communications areas – which housed the computers, listening and decoding devices manned by linguistic experts and other personnel who were changed according to the ship’s mission – were off-limits to the crew, including Captain William I. McGonagle. The communication areas were under the direct control of an NSA technician (managing spook). The on-board NSA controller for the Liberty’s June ’67 mission was known to the crew as “the Major.” With two other civilians he joined the Liberty at Rota in Spain shortly before the spy ship sailed from there for the Middle East on 2 June. The day after Dayan became minister of defence. (A coincidence?)
The Liberty’s movements were controlled by the JCS and the NSA in Washington. With a top speed of 18 knots it was faster than most ships of its kind. On both the forecastle and deckhouse aft of the bridge there were two pedestal-mounted 0.50-calibre Browning machine guns. These four guns, on open mounts without shrapnel shields, were the spy ship’s only defences. Strictly speaking the Liberty was not an unarmed vessel but for all practical purposes it was. Another sitting duck if attacked.
The Liberty’s mission was TOP SECRET and has not been acknowledged to this day.
It was on patrol, listening, because some in the Johnson administration at executive level – perhaps Defence Secretary McNamara especially – did not trust the Israelis to keep their word with regard to the scope of the war.
The Johnson administration had given the green light for Israel to attack Egypt and only Egypt. It was understood that the IDF would have to respond to Jordanian intervention – if it happened, but on no account was Israel to seek to widen the war for the purpose of taking Jordanian or Syrian territory. Apart from President Johnson’s public statement that he was as firmly committed as his predecessors had been to the “political independence and territorial integrity of all the nations in that area”, Washington’s fear was what could happen if the Israelis occupied Syrian territory. If they did there was a possibility of Soviet intervention (for face-saving reasons). Soviet leaders could just about live with the Egyptians being smashed by the IDF but not the Syrians too. Through the CIA the Johnson administration was aware of the IDF’s secret agreement with the Syrian regime. (As revealed in the previous chapter of my book, Syria, in the countdown to war, agreed to put on only a token show of fighting when Israel attacked Egypt). So it, the Johnson administration, was reasonably confident that the Syrians would not seek to widen the war by engaging the Israelis in any serious way. The name of the U.S. counter-intelligence game was therefore preventing Israel from attacking Syria. That was the Liberty’s mission.
When the Liberty was ordered to the Middle East, everybody who needed to know did know that the Israelis would have only a few days in which to smash the Egyptians – because the Security Council would demand a quick end to the fighting and Israel would have to stop when it was shown the international red card. Which meant that when Israel went to war with Egypt, it would be assigning the bulk of its armour to the Egyptian front. The point? If Israel then decided to attack Syria, it would have to re-deploy armour, very quickly, from the Egyptian front to the Syrian front. The orders for any such redeployment would be given by wireless – from Dayan’s Ministry of Defence in Tel Aviv to the commanders in the field and they, naturally, would talk to each other. If there was such radio chatter, the Liberty would pick it up and pass it urgently to the NSA in Washington. President Johnson would then demand that the Israelis abort their intended attack on Syria. So long as the Liberty was on station and functioning, the U.S. would have some control of Israel.
In short the Liberty was the Johnson administration’s insurance policy. It was there to prevent Israel’s hawks going over the top and, on a worst-case scenario, provoking Soviet intervention and possibly World War III. (One could have said then, and one could say with even more point today, that with the Zionist state as its friend the U.S. does not need enemies.)
From Dayan’s perspective… Before he could order an invasion of Syria for the purpose of grabbing the Golan Heights for keeps, the Liberty had to be put out of business.
In what follows it is important to keep two things in mind.
First: It was impossible for the attacking Israelis not to know the identity of their target. From the masthead on the ensign staff the Liberty was proudly flying the standard American flag -five feet by eight feet. The ship’s US Navy markings, GTR-5, were on both sides of its bows in white letters and a figure ten feet high. And the ship’s name was clearly visible on its stern. Not to mention the sophisticated system of radio antennae.
Second: As Stephen Green noted, “The IDF command did not have to consult Jane’s Fighting Ships to learn about the eavesdropping capabilities of the Liberty.” Israeli military intelligence had a very close working relationship with both the CIA and the U.S. Defence Department and knew well that the Liberty could listen to the movement orders for IDF units – movement orders that, on the evening–morning of 7-8 June, would be concerned with rushing units from Sinai to the northern Galilee border with Syria, in preparation for an invasion.
Shortly after 2030 hours local time on the evening of Wednesday 7 June, Israeli aerial reconnaissance reported to IDF Central Coastal Command in Tel Aviv a change in the Liberty’s course. The spy ship was now steaming toward a point on the Israeli coast midway between Tel Aviv and the naval base at Ashdod. The change of course was noted on the Israeli control table. The Liberty was represented by a green symbol indicating a neutral craft – neither foe nor friend. It may or may not have been a coincidence (I think not) that the Liberty’s course change came shortly after the Johnson administration had withdrawn its opposition in the Security Council to a resolution demanding a cease-fire. (The demand meaning that Israel was expected by the U.S. to comply).
At about 2200 hours the Liberty’s sophisticated radar-sensing equipment detected Israeli jets circling the ship. That was not surprising given where the vessel was. The surprise was that fire-control radar was being directed at it. The Israeli jets were homing their rockets as though for an attack.
The small group gathered around the Liberty’s radar screen playfully employed the ship’s electronic countermeasure (ECM) to “spoof” the Israeli pilots. The Liberty’s ECM equipment was of the latest and most sophisticated type and enabled the ship to distort its radar image and send it back to the Israeli planes – making the Liberty appear to be much smaller and then much bigger than it was. First Class Petty Officer Charles Rowley was subsequently to recall that no one took the contact seriously. The Israelis, it was assumed, were only playing games.
They were not; and there was a link between the directing of fire-control radar at the Liberty and what had happened an hour or so earlier. The Office of the U.S. Defence Attaché in Tel Aviv had sent a startling message to the U.S. Army Communications Centre in Washington. By telegram in code the message was that the IDF was planning to attack the Liberty if the ship continued to move closer to the Israeli coast!
It can be assumed that it was only a matter of minutes before everybody in Washington who needed to know did know about Dayan’s threat. (Everybody in Washington’s war loop knew that it was Dayan’s war).
In retrospect two things seem to me to be obvious.
The first is that Dayan ordered the leaking (to the U.S. Defence Attaché) of his intention to attack the Liberty in the hope that the threat alone would cause the controlling American authorities to abort the spy ship’s mission, and thus remove the need for it to be attacked.
The second is that Dayan ordered the jets which circled the Liberty at 2200 hours to direct fire-control radar at the vessel to underline the fact that he was not bluffing – that the spy ship would be attacked if it did not move away. Dayan was assuming that the Liberty would report to its controllers in Washington the fact that Israeli jets had gone through the motions of preparing to attack the vessel.
As it happened the Liberty did not report its 2200 hours contact because of the assumption that the Israeli pilots were playing games. But the Liberty’s failure to report the incident was of no consequence because the report of the U.S. Defence Attaché had weight enough on its own. Washington knew that Israel’s one-eyed warlord was not a man who made empty threats.
There can surely be no dispute about what President Johnson ought to have done given that the lives of 286 Americans on board the Liberty were at stake. He ought to have telephoned Prime Minister Eshkol and said that an Israeli attack on the Liberty would be regarded as a declaration of war on the United States of America, and would provoke an appropriate U.S. response.
But for obvious domestic political reasons Johnson was not going to do that. Instead, and no doubt at the urging of Walt Rostow and others with influence who were for Zionism right or wrong, the President approved the sending of an order for the Liberty to get away from Israel as fast as possible. Over the course of two and a half hours, three frantic messages to that effect were sent, each rated “Pinnacle”, which meant highest priority. Incredibly, none were received by the Liberty.
To this day the U.S. Navy has not offered an explanation, so those of us who don’t like mysteries have to speculate. There are, I think, only two possible explanations.
One is that the messages were inadvertently misrouted and delayed in the convoluted channels and procedures of the Defence Department’s worldwide communications system. That supposes an astonishing degree of inefficiency and incompetence. (The subsequent TOP SECRET Naval Board of Inquiry – “Review of Proceedings on the Attack on the U.S.S. Liberty” – asserted that nobody in the Defence Department was to blame for anything).
The other possible explanation is that somebody in high authority was enraged by President Johnson’s surrender to Dayan for domestic political reasons, and took the necessary steps to see to it that the messages were not transmitted to the Liberty – because he believed that the spy ship’s mission was vital; in turn because he believed that the peace of the world might be at stake if Israel attacked Syria and provoked a Soviet response. This explanation supposes that there was in the Johnson administration one hell of a fight between those who supported Zionism right or wrong – even when doing so was not in America’s best interests, and those who put America’s own interests first.
Does anybody know, really know, which of those two possible explanations is the correct one?
The fact that President Johnson, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the CIA and the NSA had advance notice of Dayan’s intention to attack the Liberty meant that, when the early reports of the attack arrived, they had a choice. In Taking Sides, Stephen Green put it this way: The choice was “either to take retaliatory action against Israel, or to become an accessory after the fact by promoting the fiction that it was somehow an accident.”
Out of fear of offending Zionism and its child it was, of course, the second option that the pork-barrel Johnson administration took, making a cover-up inevitable.
At this point I must pause to acknowledge that I, like most others (the few) who write about the cover-up, would know little that was worth knowing without Stephen Green’s original research. In Peering Into Dark Corners, the title of the first chapter of his book, he told of his epic struggle to make use of the Federal Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) to get access to declassified files from 22 different U.S. government agencies, mainly civilian and military intelligence agencies.
“The FOIA process,” he wrote in 1984 (how appropriate), “has in the past few years become an adversarial one with strong political overtones. Initial requests (for de-classified documents and files) may be simply ignored for months until repeated follow-ups elicit pro forma responses. Once a researcher’s request reaches an active pile, he or she may be threatened with exorbitant search and duplication fees.” He gave an example. In response to one particular request he was informed in writing that servicing it would require “13,000 hours of search time at $16 per hour. If I would just send along the $208,000, they would get cracking on the matter.”
To my way of thinking Green’s most chilling revelation was about the existence of Executive Order 12356. This was promulgated by President Reagan in mid-1982 to permit the re-classification of previously de-classified documents! “The Reagan Justice Department has encouraged a number of federal agencies to avail themselves of this new ‘opportunity’ to return to an era when the processes of government were none of the American people’s business.”
In passing it is also worth noting that Green’s credentials were beyond reproach because he is Jewish. He dedicated his book as follows – “For my father, who would have understood.” Green’s hope was that his book would encourage debate about the need for America to have a more distant and rational relationship with Israel.
Precisely when on Thursday 8 June Dayan ordered the actual attack on the Liberty has never been revealed. There was however a Congressional leak to Green from a named member – Representative Robert L.F. Sikes – of the intelligence working group of the investigating Defence Subcommittee of the House Committee on Appropriations. The leak confirmed among other things the existence of a suppressed report of a secret CIA briefing in which it was stated that Dayan had issued the order over the protests of another Israeli general who said, “This is pure murder.”
The attack, the murder at sea, was in two main phases lasting more than one hour (as we shall see, an intended third and final phase had to be aborted); and it was launched after aerial reconnaissance of the Liberty, in the sunlight of the eastern Mediterranean, over a period of eight hours. As all television cameramen and still photographers know, the sunlight in the eastern Mediterranean has almost magical properties. It is Mother Nature’s assistance for taking perfect pictures.
Dawn on the morning of Thursday 8 June brought with it the promise of another beautiful and clear day. Calm sea. Light, warm breezes. The off-duty crew of the Liberty could not have had it better if they were holidaymakers on a cruise ship. Many were, in fact, looking forward to some sunbathing on the deck.
The aerial reconnaissance of the Liberty started at 0600 hours when a lumbering Israeli Noratlas (a Nord 2051) slowly circled the ship three times.
On the bridge Ensign John Scott, near the end of his watch as the Officer of the Deck, studied the plane through his binoculars.
The French-built Noratlas was a transport plane but this one had been modified by the Israeli Air Force. It was carrying not fighting men of any kind but photographers – the best the Israeli Air Force had (which probably meant they were second to none in the world) – and, to direct them, specialists from the directorate of military intelligence. The pictures that were being taken of the Liberty on this and several subsequent over-flights would determine the precise plan of attack.
If Dayan was to get away with it, the Liberty had to be totally destroyed with no survivors to tell the tale. And the key to complete success when the attack was launched would be taking out the Liberty’s transmitting facilities before it could get off a call for help to the American Sixth Fleet which was not too far away. If the Liberty did succeed in transmitting an S.O.S. when it was being attacked, there was at least the possibility that fighter planes from the Sixth Fleet would be ordered to take on the attackers. The prospect of an aerial dog-fight between U.S. and Israeli warplanes was unthinkable. But that was what Dayan would be risking if his attack planes failed to take out the Liberty’s transmitting facilities with their first rockets. The Noratlas’s prime task was to get the pictures that would enable Israeli pilots to attack the Liberty’s communications facilities with, literally, pin-point accuracy on their first run.
At 0720 hours Lieutenant James Ennes replaced Scott as the Officer of the Deck. By now everybody on the Liberty was well aware that their ship was being examined very, very carefully. The first thing Ennes did was to order a new flag (measuring five feet by eight feet) to be run up the main mast. The old one had been badly sooted on the journey from Rota.
At 0900 hours, in accordance with its original operating orders, the Liberty made a sharp right-hand turn and reduced speed to five knots. The ship was doubling back in a westerly direction roughly parallel to the Egyptian coast north of El Arish. As Ennes ordered the turn, the Liberty was 25 miles from Gaza and less than 30 miles from the nearest point on the Israeli coast. The ship was now perfectly placed to listen to IDF movement orders – orders for many Israeli units in Sinai to turn around and move north, to assist with the consolidation of Israel’s capture of the West Bank and, more importantly, an attack on Syria. (I was in Sinai at the time reporting for ITN, and I saw some of the Israel tanks that had smashed through Egypt’s defences being loaded onto huge lorry-drawn trailers for transportation northwards).
As the Liberty was turning, a single jet aircraft was watching from a distance. Then, at 1000 hours, two delta-winged jets armed with rockets circled the ship three times. On this occasion the planes came close enough for Ennes and other officers on the bridge to see the pilots in their cockpits through binoculars. The odd thing, or so the Americans on the Liberty’s bridge thought, was that the two planes did not seem to have any markings.
In retrospect, it is obvious that the 1000 hours visit was something of a trial run, to enable the pilots to take a view on whether or not the first set of pictures taken by the Noratlas would enable them to attack the Liberty’s communications facilities with pin-point accuracy.
Events suggest that the two pilots who were to lead the attack were not happy and wanted more photographs to enable them to guarantee such pinpoint accuracy. After their report, the Noratlas made three more over flights: at 1030 hours – this time passing directly over the Liberty at a very low level, probably not more than 200 feet: at 1126 hours; and 1220 hours.
At 1310 hours, with lunch over, the crew of the Liberty conducted a series of drills including fire, damage control and gas attack. That took 40 minutes. Captain McGonagle then addressed the ship’s officers and crew. In the normal course of events he would have confined himself to complimenting them (or not) on the job done in the drills. But on this particular afternoon, the fourth of the war – they could see the smoke of battle on the shoreline, he knew that his men were in need of reassurance. After the Noratlas’s fourth reconnaissance over-flight there had been mutterings of fear. The Israelis had obviously identified the Liberty several times over. What, really, did they want?
McGonagle addressed the concern of his ship’s company by stressing that they had been under surveillance by “friendly” forces. Given that and the fact that they (the friendly forces) could not have failed to identify the Liberty, the captain was implying that his men should dismiss from their minds the possibility of an attack. He was saying – without saying – that the Israelis could not attack the Liberty without knowing it was the Liberty they were attacking.
At 1405 hours the “friends” returned, led by three Mirages each armed with 72 rockets and two 30-mm cannons. This time there was no circling. At high speed they came straight for the Liberty, so fast that between the time they appeared as blips on the ship’s radar and the start of their attack, Ennes and others on the bridge barely had time to grab and focus their binoculars.
For seven minutes the three Mirages made furious, crisscross runs, hitting the Liberty with everything they had. The first rockets fired toppled several of the ship’s antennae. After the Mirages and for about another 20 minutes, the air attack was continued by several Mystere fighters. They were slower than the Mirages and therefore more efficient for staffing and dropping canisters of napalm. (Napalm is a highly inflammable petroleum jelly. In Vietnam I witnessed American ground forces using it in flame-throwers to burn entire villages. It can reduce a human body to a handful of black pulp). The fact that the Israelis resorted to use of napalm for their attack on the Liberty is on its own proof enough that Dayan wanted there to be no survivors to tell the tale.
When the first attack was over the Liberty had 621 holes in its sides and decks, including over 100 rocket holes six to eight inches wide: and not counting the shrapnel damage. As author Richard Smith wrote, Israeli pilots with the greatest ease could “butcher a large, slow moving and defenceless target like the Liberty,” and the Mirages’ ordnance, designed to penetrate the armour of tanks, “punched through the Liberty’s 22 year-old shell-plating like a hammer against an old block of cheese.”
Within a minute or so of the start of the attack Captain McGonagle had ordered a report be made to the Chief of Naval Operations. It was an order he gave more in hope than expectation of it being executed – because he was aware that the ship’s transmission facilities had been the first priority for the attacking planes. But… At 1410 hours, five minutes after the attack started, the Liberty’s Chief Radioman, Wayne Smith, did succeed in transmitting an open-channel “Mayday” distress call for assistance. He was subsequently to tell the Navy Board of Inquiry that as soon as the attack started, the participating planes and/or shore-based units were jamming the Liberty’s radios. He recalled that five of the ship’s six shore circuits were very quickly jammed and that whoever was doing it “went searching” for the last circuit. It was on this last circuit that Smith was able to transmit the call for assistance. Because it was an open-channel transmission, the Israelis obviously heard it. The question then waiting for an answer was – would any of the warships of the American Sixth Fleet hear it and, if they did, how would they respond?
Correction – would they be allowed by President Johnson to respond?
Phase two of the attack was executed by three Israeli motor torpedo boats (MTBs). The Liberty’s crew were fighting the fires caused by the air attack when the MTBs announced their arrival by opening up with their 0.20-mm and 0.40-mm guns. Their main task was to sink the Liberty. For that purpose – could there have been any other? – they fired three torpedoes. One struck the communications room dead centre in Number 3 hold, killing in an instant 25 of the 34 men who died in the entire attack. The 25, including the “Major”, were entombed in the flooded wreckage.
Ten years later, the consequences of the combined air and sea attacks were summarised by one of the surviving crew members, Joseph C. Lentini of Maryland, in a letter to the editor of the Washington Star. It was published on 4 October 1977. Lentini wrote: “In less than 39 minutes a fine ship was reduced to a bullet-ridden, napalm scorched and helpless floating graveyard. In those 39 minutes boys brought up in the peaceful aftermath of a horrendous world war experienced their first, and for some their last, trial of fire.”
The Liberty was now listing nine degrees and the MTBs were circling slowly, directing their canon fire at the ship’s bridge and any activity that could be seen on the deck and, also, at the ship’s waterline in an apparent effort to explode its boilers.
What happened next was yet more evidence that Dayan wanted no survivors.
The order “Prepare to abandon ship!” was followed, naturally, by the lowering of the first lifeboats. As they touched the water the Israeli MTBs moved closer and shot them to pieces. Among the Liberty crewmen who witnessed this was Petty Officer Charles Rowley. He also observed the concentration of machine-gun fire on the life-boats still stored on deck. After the attack he carefully photographed the shredded boats, thinking that one day his pictures would help to tell a story. When eventually he told it to Stephen Green, Rowley said, “They didn’t want anybody to live.”
At 1505 or thereabouts (a time to remember) the MTBs suddenly broke off their attack and departed at high-speed in a “V” formation. They went to a distance of about five miles to await further orders.
The Liberty now had no engines, no rudder and no power. And was taking in water.
Nine of its officers and crew were known dead; another 25 were missing and correctly presumed to be dead (in the communications room that had taken the torpedo); and 171 were wounded. Those who were wounded but not incapacitated joined with the other 90 who had survived unscathed and set about collecting bodies, dressing wounds, fighting fires, stringing lights and hand-operated phone sets, repairing the engines and, above all, trying to keep the Liberty afloat.
While they worked on those tasks, two large Israeli SA-321 Super Frelon helicopters put in an appearance and slowly circled the stricken ship. Both were clearly marked with a large Star of David. A rescue mission? No. (Presumably there had not been time to paint out the Stars of David because the attack was not going according to plan. The Liberty was supposed to have been sunk by now).
The cargo bay doors were open and Liberty crewmen could see that both helicopters were crammed with armed troops (Israeli Special Forces). And a machine gun was mounted in each of the cargo bays.
On the Liberty Captain McGonagle gave the order he deemed to be appropriate. “Standby to repel borders!”
As reported by Ennes, the next voice was that of an ordinary sailor, hysterical but logical and probably speaking for many. “They’ve come to finish us off!”
The Israelis had come to do just that, but not yet. For the moment the helicopter pilots and the commanders of the Special Forces on board were under orders to look – to take their measure of the target – and pass by. To await, like the MTBs, further orders.
How was it going to end?
At 1536 hours the MTBs returned, accompanied by two unmarked, armed jets. They were coming for the kill. They were to finish off the Liberty, sink it – the MTBs with more torpedoes; the Special Forces on board the Super Frelon helicopters to do the mopping up, shooting dead any survivors bobbing in the water.
That was to have been the third and final phase of the Israeli attack, gut-Zionism’s final solution, one might say, to the problem of the Liberty and its secrets. There were to be no survivors to tell the tale of what had really happened, and, just as critical from Dayan’s point of view, no survivors to reveal to the American authorities any of the information the Liberty’s complex intelligence apparatus had gathered about the IDF’s preparations for an invasion of Syria.
But it did not happen. At the last minute the third and final phase of the Israeli attack was aborted. The MTBs and the two jets disappeared. Why?
The short answer is that eight aircraft from the U.S. carriers Saratoga and America were on their way to assist the Liberty with orders to “destroy or drive off any attackers.”
The longer answer is the incredible story of the struggle by elements of the U.S. military to overcome the resistance of an American President to go to the assistance of American servicemen who, defenceless, were under attack by a “friend” and ally.
The first attempt to assist the Liberty was what Green described as a “reflexive” one, meaning that it was the instant response – human as well as professional – of the captain of one of the Sixth Fleet’s aircraft carriers, the U.S.S. Saratoga. Its captain was Joseph Tully.
The Saratoga had received the Liberty’s open-channel “Mayday” distress call and enough information to know that the ship was being attacked by what Radioman Smith had described as “unidentified” aircraft.
By chance the Saratoga was conducting an exercise when it picked up the Liberty’s message and four A-1 Skyhawks were launch-ready on its decks. Captain Tully was handed the Liberty’s message by Navigator Max Morris. After a brief discussion with him, Tully ordered the Saratoga to head into the wind. Less than 15 minutes after the start of the Israeli attack, armed U.S. planes were in the air. The estimated flight time to the Liberty was about 30 minutes. The unthinkable – a confrontation between U.S. and Israeli warplanes – was, it seemed, about to happen.
Over the Sixth Fleet’s Primary Tactical Manoeuvring Circuit radio network Captain Tully then informed the fleet’s Commander, Admiral Martin, of the Liberty’s predicament and his response. Martin not only endorsed Tully’s action, he used the same circuit to order the U.S.S. America, the other carrier in Carrier Task Force 60, also to launch planes to protect the Liberty. But… The America did not respond immediately.
In Green’s reconstruction of events, that was because it was not in the same state of alert or readiness as the Saratoga. That might not have been the whole story. There is evidence that Captain (later Admiral) Donald Engen was not going to launch any of the America’s planes immediately even if he could have done so – because he was insisting on playing by the rules to protect his own back and career prospects. What were the rules? Years later former Congressman Findley was to quote Engen as saying: “President Johnson had very strict control. Even though we knew the Liberty was under attack, I couldn’t just go and order a rescue.”
In any event it was only minutes after the Saratoga’s launch that the Commander of Carrier Task Force 60, Rear Admiral Geis, issued an order for the recall of the A-1s and minutes later they were back on the Saratoga’s deck. They were not to respond to the Liberty’s desperate plea for assistance.
One inference is that Captain Engen communicated with Rear Admiral Geis and said something like, “Should we not clear this with our political masters in Washington?” And that Geis replied, “You bet”, or words to that effect.
President Johnson was very quickly informed – presumably by Defence Secretary McNamara – that the Liberty was under attack and that the Saratoga had launched planes to go to its assistance. Hence the order – from the President to the Defence Secretary – to recall the planes. In Findley’s account the Saratoga’s planes were hardly in the air when McNamara’s voice was heard over Sixth Fleet radios, “Tell the Sixth Fleet to get those aircraft back immediately!”
Initially, President Johnson was – as Green put it – determined “that no U.S. aircraft would be thrust into an adversary role with the IDF, whatever the implication for the struggling U.S.S. Liberty.” Initially, and for the usual domestic political reason – fear of offending Zionism – this President was prepared to sacrifice the lives of 286 of his fellow Americans on board the Liberty.
What was about to happen indicates that for the best part of 30 minutes or so following the political decision to abandon the Liberty and its crew, elements of the U.S. military took on the President and shamed him into changing his mind. Their argument would have been to the effect that not going to the assistance of the Liberty was disgraceful and dishonourable in the extreme. It is reasonable to assume that this struggle with President Johnson (and those of his advisers he was taking most notice of – those who supported Israel right or wrong) was led initially by the Sixth Fleet’s Commander, Admiral Martin, to the cheers no doubt, of Captain Tully. But Martin could not have prevailed without the support of the Chief of Naval Operations and most if not all of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
At about 1500 hours (eastern Mediterranean time) President Johnson changed his mind and authorised some action. At 1505 hours a message from COMSIXTHFLT (Commander Sixth Fleet) was transmitted to the Liberty via plain-language radio. (For U.S. Navy file purposes the message was COMSIXTHFLT 081305Z – Z denoting Greenwich Mean Time, which was two hours earlier than eastern Mediterranean/local Liberty/Israeli time.) The message said: “Your flash traffic received. Sending aircraft to cover you. Surface units on the way. Keep situation reports coming.”
As it happened this message was not received by the Liberty because it had no electricity and was off the air.
Question: Was it co-incidence that at about the time the Commander of the Sixth Fleet was sending his message, the Israeli MTBs were ordered to break off their attack and withdraw five miles to await further instructions? I think not. Though the Liberty was unable to receive Admiral Martin’s plain-language radio message, it would have been picked up by IDF monitors. And that would have been enough for those around Dayan who had opposed the attack – in particular the general who had said it would amount to “pure murder” – to press for it to be called off, or, at least, for the situation to be urgently reviewed. It is also possible that President Johnson, desperate in the extreme to avoid a confrontation with the IDF, authorised Walt Rostow to use his network to inform the Israelis that U.S. warplanes were being launched to go to the Liberty’s assistance.
The next sequence of events, military and political, could not have been more dramatic. A writer of fiction would not have dared to invent them.
- At 1516 hours Carrier Task Force 60 (Rear Admiral Geis now had his backside covered) ordered the Saratoga and the America to launch eight aircraft to assist the Liberty and to “destroy or drive off any attackers.”
- At 1520 hours Admiral Martin informed the Commander of U.S. Armed Forces in Europe that aircraft were being deployed.
- At 1536 hours (as previously noted) the Israeli MTBs moved in for the kill.
- At 1539 Admiral Martin informed the Chief of Naval Operations in Washington of the actions being taken. The eight U.S. warplanes were going to be over the Liberty at about 1600 hours, plus or minus.
- Minutes later the Israeli MTBs were ordered to abort their final attack and get the hell out of the area.
- At 1614 the U.S. Defence Attaché in Tel Aviv informed the White House that the Naval Attaché had been called to the Foreign Liaison Office of the IDF to receive a report that Israeli aircraft and MTBs had “erroneously attacked U.S. ship.” It was “maybe Navy ship.” The Israelis, the Defence Attaché reported, “send abject apologies and request info on other U.S. ships near war zone coasts.“
- With that message in his hands, the Commander in Chief of all U.S. forces, President Johnson, ordered the eight U.S. warplanes to abort their mission and return to their carriers. And he accepted Israel’s explanation. The attack on the Liberty had been a ghastly mistake.
And that lie became the official American and Israeli truth.
Though it will remain a matter of speculation forever and a day – because the most relevant documents have not been declassified and presumably never will be, I think what really happened in the final minutes of what Findley described as “an episode of heroism and tragedy at sea which is without precedent in American history” was as follows.
- Shortly before 1536, when the MTBs were ordered to resume the attack and go for the kill, Dayan said to himself, and perhaps others, something like the following: “We’re in too deep to get out now. Let’s finish the job while we still have time, just about, to destroy the evidence… so that we can blame the Egyptians.”
When it was clear that U.S. war planes were on their way – the IDF would have detected them – Dayan’s military colleagues (enough of them), led by the general who had opposed the attack when it was only an idea, insisted that the attack be called off, perhaps indicating that they would expose the defence minister if he did not agree. That is one possible explanation. Another is that it was Prime Minister Eshkol himself who spoke to Dayan on the telephone and said, “Stop!”
Rear Admiral Isaac Kidd was assigned the task of presiding over the Naval Board of Inquiry. Confirming a gagging order issued by Defence Secretary McNamara about not speaking to the media, Kidd instructed Liberty survivors who were to give evidence to refer all questions to the commanding officer or executive officer or to himself. He added: “Answer no questions. If you are backed into a corner, then you may say that it was an accident and that Israel has apologised. You may say nothing else.”
Marked TOP SECRET, the Naval Board’s report was completed on 18 June 1967. It has not been declassified to this day.
But the Defence Department did issue an unclassified summary of the “proceedings” of the inquiry. It was a cover-up. It stated that the Naval Board had had “insufficient information before it to make a judgement on the reasons for the decision by Israeli aircraft and motor torpedo boats to attack.”
The contribution to the cover-up by Zionism’s apologists in Congress was swift, well co-ordinated but not very well informed. In the House of Representatives Roman Pucinski from Illinois rose to ask for permission to speak for one minute while they were debating saline water. He said:
“Mr. Speaker, it was with a heavy heart that we learned a little while ago of the tragic mistake which occurred in the Mediterranean when an Israeli ship mistakenly attacked an American ship and killed four of our boys and injured and wounded 53 others. These are the tragic consequences of armed conflict: such mistakes happen frequently in Vietnam. It would be my hope that this tragic mistake will not obscure the traditional friendship we in the United States have with the people of Israel. The Israeli government has already apologised… ”
The printed version of Pucinski’s statement in The Congressional Record for the day was headlined “Tragic Mistake”.
On the floor of the Senate the performances were more impressive. In the first five paragraphs of his statement, Senator Jacob Javits, pro-Israel right or wrong – and a heavyweight and persistent critic of the State Department – referred five times to the accidental nature of the attack. As Green noted, Javits even explained how such a mistake could occur.
“Mr. President, I must say it is a great tribute to the valour of the troops of Israel that this morning I have heard Senator after Senator say that while they were terribly dismayed and saddened by this accident, they understood how it could take place under the terrible stresses the forces of Israel have been under in these last few weeks.” (i.e. because the Zionist state was, allegedly, in danger of being exterminated).
Through its mouthpieces in Congress and elsewhere, and endorsed by the Johnson administration, Zionism’s message to the people of America was, effectively: “Because the attack was a mistake, and because Israel has apologised, let’s forget about it.”
But there must have been a sense of alarm in Zionism’s ranks when, on 19 June, the day after the Naval Board completed its inquiry, the following item appeared in Newsweek’s “Periscope” section.
“Although Israel’s apologies were officially accepted, some high Washington officials believe the Israelis knew the Liberty’s capabilities and suspect that the attack might not have been accidental. One top-level theory holds that someone in the Israeli armed forces ordered the Liberty sunk because he suspected it had taken down messages showing that Israel started the fighting.”
Except in one respect the item contained the essence of the totally shocking truth. In retrospect it can be seen that the item was in error only to the extent that the “someone”, Dayan, was not concerned by any evidence the Liberty had gathered that could prove Israel started the war. Those in Washington’s war-loop knew that. Dayan’s purpose was to prevent the spy ship giving President Johnson warning of his intention to invade Syria.
But the alarm was short-lived. Zionism had enough friends in the mainstream media, and more than enough influence of various kinds to intimidate writers and broadcasters who were not pro-Israel right or wrong, to prevent the matter of what had really happened being pursued in public.
In private the one top-level American official who initially refused to be a party to the cover-up was Secretary of State Dean Rusk. Like all of his predecessors, and because he believed it was his duty to put America’s interests first, he had to live with Zionism’s smears to the effect that he was anti-Israel. Rusk was outraged by the Johnson administration’s collusion with Israel for war. In fact he was so concerned about the damage being done to America’s interests in the Middle East by Johnson’s decision to take sides with Israel that, at a meeting in Luxembourg, he told NATO Secretary General Manlio Brosio and others in attendance some of the truth about the attack on the Liberty.
We know this from a secret telegram that was de-classified in 1983 as a result of Green’s persistence. It was sent by U.S. NATO Ambassador Harland Cleveland to Under-Secretary of State Eugene Rostow, Walt’s brother. Cleveland’s cable said: “Quite apart from Newsweek Periscope item, Secretary’s comments to Brosio and several foreign ministers at Luxembourg about Israeli foreknowledge that Liberty was a U.S. ship piqued a great deal of curiosity among NATO delegations. Would appreciate guidance as to how much of this curiosity I can satisfy, and when.”
It can be taken as read that Walt advised Eugene to do everything he could to shut his boss up.
So far as I am aware, the question nobody has attempted to answer in public is this: Who was the Israeli general who opposed Dayan’s decision to attack the Liberty and said it would amount to “pure murder“?
Despite the fact that in his own memoirs he went along with the fiction that Israeli pilots failed to identify the Liberty as a U.S. ship and that the attack was a tragic mistake, I think it was, very probably, Chief of Staff Rabin – the Israeli leader who, many years later as prime minister, was stopped from advancing the peace process with Arafat and his PLO by an assassin in gut-Zionism’s name. And I think so for a number of reasons.
Rabin was at one with Prime Minister Eshkol in believing that Israel could and should live within its pre-1967 war borders. And as we have also seen, Rabin’s own plan for military action in the summer of 1967 was for a strictly limited operation against Egypt, and only Egypt, a strategy Dayan described as “absurd.”
As it was happening Rabin was opposed to the IDF’s gobbling up of the West Bank. At a meeting of senior officers with Dayan present, Rabin had asked, “How do we control one million Arabs?” He meant: “We won’t be able to. The idea of occupation is madness. We could well be sowing the seeds of catastrophe for the Jewish state.” The only response Rabin got was by way of a correction. A staff officer said: “Actually it’s one million, two hundred and fifty thousand.” As Shlaim noted, Rabin had asked the question to which no one had an answer. The real point was that nobody in the military high command except Rabin wanted to think about the implications of what the IDF was doing. More Arab land was there for the taking, so take it.
Rabin was opposed to an invasion of Syria. In his memoirs he wrote that Dayan ordered the attack on Syria “for reasons I have never grasped.” In my analysis that was Rabin pulling his punches. He knew why Dayan ordered the attack on Syria – to take the Golan Heights to complete the creation of Greater Israel; but he, Rabin, was not going to say so except by implication.
When the Liberty was being attacked, the insider gossip in Israel was that Rabin had “lost his nerve… cracked under the pressure… was drinking heavily… was under the table… a disgrace.” I first heard this gossip from Israeli friends I knew to be very close to Dayan. And it was former DMI Herzog who confirmed to me that such rumours were rife. In retrospect I think the gossip was inspired by Dayan to give him scope to discredit Rabin if the need arose – if he so much as hinted to anybody outside the command circle that he had tried to prevent the attack on the Liberty. (Could it not be said that the idea of attacking the Liberty was enough to drive any rational human being, even an Israeli general, to drink?) The idea that Rabin might have been tempted to make trouble for Dayan is not unthinkable if he shared -and he probably did – Eshkol’s private view of Israel’s warlord.
When the prime minister learned that Dayan had ordered the attack on Syria without consulting or informing himself or Chief of Staff Rabin, he thought about cancelling the order and said of Dayan, to his aide-de-camp, “What a vile man.” That quotation was unearthed by Shlaim. What could have made Eshkol resort to such extraordinary language? My guess is that use of the adjective “vile” reflected most of all the prime minister’s horror at Dayan’s ordering of the attack on the Liberty.
As related by Seymour Hersh, Eshkol also had a pungent way of expressing his grave doubts about the wisdom of keeping occupied territory. After the war Abe Feinberg visited Israel and Eshkol said to him (in Yiddish): “What am I going to do with a million Arabs? They fuck like rabbits.”
With the Liberty taken out of the equation, the first indication official Washington had of Dayan’s intentions thereafter was in the form of a “flash” telegram to Secretary of State Rusk from Evan Wilson, the U.S. Consul General in Jerusalem. (“Flash” was the highest precedence designation for State messages). Quoting the UN’s General Odd Bull, the telegram said that Israel had launched an “intensive air and artillery bombardment” of Syrian positions, and that Wilson assumed it was a “prelude to a large-scale attack.” That message was sent, flashed, at about 1530 hours local time, just before Dayan ordered the MTBs to finish off the Liberty.
Rusk was furious and wanted to take immediate action. The fact that it took him the best part of an hour to get President Johnson’s permission to read the riot act to Israel suggests that he had a considerable amount of internal opposition to overcome. (I can imagine the Rostow brothers joining forces – Eugene in the State Department, Walt in the White House – to have the President clip the Secretary of State’s wings). Rusk’s eventual response was another “flash” message in the form of an instruction to Walworth Barbour, the U.S. Ambassador to Israel. He was ordered, urgently, to approach the Israeli Foreign Ministry at the highest level to express “deep concern” at the new indication of military action by Israel. The text of Rusk’s instruction to Barbour included the following:
“If reported bombardment correct, we would presume it prelude to military action against Syrian positions on Syrian soil. Such a development, following on heels Israeli acceptance cease-fire resolution would cast doubts on Israeli intentions and create gravest problems for [U.S. government] representatives in Arab countries. You should stress we must at all costs have complete cessation Israeli military action except in cases where clearly some replying fire is necessary in self-defence.”
After making his representation as instructed, Ambassador Barbour sought to defend the IDF’s softening up of Syria’s positions by reminding Rusk that Syria had not yet accepted the Security Council’s demand for a cease-fire (as, I add, Jordan and Egypt had actually done and Israel had falsely claimed to have done). It was true that the Syrians were still shooting from fixed positions in their own territory – but in response to the IDF’s bombardment; and, also, because Syria’s leaders were putting on a token show, to enable them to score points against Nasser in the Arab world by claiming that they had held out longer than him. The Johnson administration knew the Syrian regime had honoured its secret pre-war deal with Israel by not advancing its land forces from their defensive positions, so when Rusk flashed instructions to Barbour he knew that the Syrian army posed no threat to Israel.
In reality any hope the Johnson administration had of stopping the Israelis had been destroyed by their attack on the Liberty.
That evening, Thursday 8 June, Nasser intervened to stop the Syrians – in the hope of stopping the Israelis. The Egyptian President sent the following message to his Syrian counterpart, Nur ed-Din al Atassi: “I believe that Israel is about to concentrate all of its forces against Syria in order to destroy the Syrian army and regard for the common cause obliges me to advise you to agree to the ending of hostilities and to inform U Thant immediately, in order to preserve Syria’s great army. We have lost this battle.”
The message ended:
“May God help us in the future. Your brother, Gamal Abdul Nasser.”
That Nasser message, no doubt like all others, was intercepted by Israeli military intelligence. In the margin of a copy of it, Dayan scribbled the following note:
1. In my opinion this cable obliges us to capture maximal military lines.
2. Yesterday I did not think Egypt and Syria would collapse in this way and give up the continuation of the campaign. But since this is the situation, it must be exploited to the full.
A great day. Moshe Dayan.”
The Syrian leadership took Nasser’s advice and announced its acceptance of the cease-fire. It came into effect at 0520 hours the following morning, Friday 9 June. So far as the Arabs and the organised international community represented by the UN were concerned, the war was over.
Six hours and ten minutes later, the IDF invaded Syria.
Dayan had postponed the attack to allow for the redeployment of IDF units from Sinai and the West Bank – a redeployment that could not be completed while the Liberty was capable of listening to IDF movement orders.
Contrary to Dayan’s expectations and his prediction to the IDF’s northern commander, General David (“Dado”) Elazar, who had never been less than gung-ho for war with Syria, the Syrians fought well. Apart from honour – the eyes of the Arab world were upon them – there were probably two reasons why they did so. The Golan Heights were thought to be impregnable and they felt secure in their bunkers and fox holes. But when Israeli paratroops and armour were landed behind them, they were effectively cut-off, with nowhere to run; they had to fight or die. Because the IDF had an audacious enough plan to capture the Golan Heights, they became less of an impregnable fortress for their Syrian defenders and more of a death-trap.
On Friday 9 June 1967, and for the best part of 24 hours, the Syrians fought with all their strength, and there were great and true acts of courage under fire on both sides, not least on the part of those IDF officers who led their men into the jaws of certain death that the bunkers and fox-holes of the Golan Heights were. But by the evening of Saturday 10 June, in defiance of what had been agreed secretly with the Johnson administration before the war, the Golan Heights were in Israel’s hands. The war was over. In six days the creation of Greater Israel was a fait accompli. Dayan had made Zionism’s mad dream come true.
In his conversations with Rami Tal which were not made public until after his death, Dayan was astonishingly honest. At the heart of the great myth about Israel’s actions on the Syrian front in 1967 is the claim – it remains an article of faith among Israelis and most Jews everywhere – that the IDF seized the Golan Heights to stop the fiendish Syrians shelling Israeli settlements down below. (As we have seen, it was Israeli provocations that provoked Syrian shooting in the countdown to the war). When Tal demonstrated his belief in this Israeli claim, Dayan cut him short and said the following:
“Look, it’s possible to talk in terms of ‘the Syrians are bastards, you have to get them and this is the right time,’ but that is no policy. You don’t strike every enemy because he is a bastard but because he threatens you. And the Syrians, on the fourth day of the war, were not a threat to us.”
Israel’s last land grab of the war did provoke the threat, a real and serious one, of Soviet military intervention. For some hours there was the prospect that gut-Zionism’s territorial ambitions and what Lilienthal rightly called “Israel’s unconscionable use of military force” would provoke a superpower confrontation and possibly World War III. But at the brink, catastrophe was averted by use of the White House-Kremlin hot line.
For Israel’s hawks and those in the Johnson administration with whom they conspired, there was one big disappointment. The humiliation the Israelis had heaped on Nasser did not bring about his downfall, but… There was a moment when it had seemed that he was finished.
On the evening of 9 June, live on television from his home and headquarters in Manshiet el-Bakri near Heliopolis on the road to the airport, Nasser resigned. He was looking drawn and haggard and appeared to be a broken man. The explanation he gave his people for the catastrophe Egypt had suffered was short and simple. He had listened, he said, to the warnings of President Johnson and the Soviet Union not to strike the first blow.
That said, Nasser announced he was resigning the presidency in favour of Vice-President Zacharia Mohieddin, (the man who, on Nasser’s instructions, and given the chance by the Israelis, would have made the necessary concessions in discussions with U.S. Vice-President Humphrey to avert war).
Nasser did actually resign but before the next day was out, in response to mass demonstrations in his favour, he was President again.
Israelis, leaders and ordinary folk, had their own explanation for this turnaround in Cairo. The whole thing had been stage-managed. Nasser was not serious when he resigned. He was playing a game. The popular demonstrations in his favour had not been spontaneous. His secret police had bullied and bribed Egyptians to take to the streets to demand that Nasser stayed in power. (Israel’s intelligence chiefs knew that the CIA’s plan for toppling Nasser included paying Egyptians to take to the streets to denounce him. They assumed that Nasser had done the same thing in reverse, so to speak).
My Israeli friends, and many others who said such things, were kidding themselves. It was what they wanted to believe. The truth about what happened in Cairo is this.
Nasser did not inform his chosen successor of his intention to resign and, consequently, he did not ask Mohieddin if he was prepared to take over. Mohieddin did not want to be President in any circumstances, but especially those now prevailing in Egypt and throughout the Arab world because of the scale and speed of Israel’s victory which, for the Arabs, was an even bigger humiliation than that of 1948. Like all Egyptians and other Arabs, Mohieddin did not know that Nasser was intending to resign until he said so live on TV and radio. As soon as the broadcast ended, Mohieddin drove at top speed to Nasser’s home – to refuse the succession for himself and to tell the resigned President that he could not abandon his post while remnants of his army were still trapped in Sinai.
An argument followed. Nasser insisted there was no going back on his decision. “You are now responsible”, he said to Mohieddin, “you cannot refuse.” Mohieddin gave as good as he got. He told Nasser that he had no right to choose his successor. Only the National Assembly could decide who would be President.
While the two men continued to argue, the cabinet was assembling in another room for a meeting Nasser had called to ratify his hand-over of power to the Vice-President. Meanwhile, in the streets outside, the people were having their say. Contrary to what Israelis believed at the time, it was an entirely spontaneous happening. The best summary description of it was in a report filed to Le Monde by the perceptive Eric Rouleau, one of the best French correspondents of his generation. He wrote:
“In the twilight and semi-blacked-out streets, hundreds of thousands, some of them still in pyjamas and the women in nightgowns, came out of their houses weeping and shouting, ‘Nasser, Nasser, don’t leave us, we need you.’ The noise was like a rising storm. Tens of thousands threatened to kill any deputies who did not vote for Nasser. Half a million people massed along the five miles from Nasser’s home, millions more began to pour into Cairo from all over Egypt to make sure that Nasser stayed.”
The following day, while the IDF was going for the Golan Heights, the National Assembly, by a unanimous decision, invited Nasser to remain as President.
It might have been that he resigned in the hope and even the expectation that his announcement would trigger a popular response in his favour, but there can be no doubt that it was spontaneous. Why, really, did it happen?
In my analysis the best way to explain it is by comparing perceptions.
Zionism had succeeded in selling its lie for the war. As a consequence (generally speaking), Nasser was perceived in America and throughout the Western world as the common enemy in general and, in particular, the Arab aggressor who had gone to war to annihilate the Jewish state. If that’s what you believed, whether you were Jewish or not, the events in Cairo following Nasser’s resignation statement were perplexing. He had led his people to catastrophe. He was a disaster for them. Surely now they would see that and, if he did not quit, they would overthrow him. Or ought to.
The perception of the people of Egypt and almost all Arabs everywhere was rather different and rooted in reality. In it the Zionist state was the aggressor and the Arabs were the victims of aggression. There were, of course, some Egyptians who realised that Nasser had made mistakes and miscalculations which had contributed to the disaster – given Israel’s hawks and their American conspirators the pretext they wanted for war. But such criticism as there was of Nasser for his leadership failings was the small-print on the invoice for catastrophe.
In summary: The vast majority of Egyptians, and very many other Arabs, still saw Nasser for what he really was – the symbol of their wish not to be dominated, not to be controlled and exploited by the combined forces of emerging American imperialism (replacing British and French imperialism) and its Zionist ally.
That’s why Nasser survived.
I think the best account of the 1967 war by any Jewish writer, Israeli or other, is in Avi Shlaim’s revision of modern Israel’s history: but I think his conclusions about what really happened on the Israeli side in the war miss a fundamental point. (I remain puzzled by the fact that he did not mention the attack on the Liberty, let alone the reasons for it). Shlaim wrote:
“Dayan’s various accounts of the reasons for war against Syria are so alarmingly inconsistent that one indeed needs to be a psychologist to fathom his behaviour. But one thing emerges clearly from all his contradictory accounts: the Eshkol government did not have a political plan for the conduct of the war. It was divided internally, it debated options endlessly, it improvised and it seized opportunities as they presented themselves. It hoped for war on one front, was drawn to war on a second front and ended up by initiating war on a third front. The one thing it did not have was a master plan for territorial aggrandisement. Its territorial aims were defined not in advance but in response to developments on the battlefield. Appetite comes with eating. The decision-making process of the Eshkol government during the war was complex, confused, convoluted. It did not bear the slightest resemblance to what political scientists like to call ‘the rational actor model.’”
The notion that one needed to be a psychologist to fathom Dayan’s intentions was inspired by a remark made by Eshkol’s aide-de-camp, Israel Lior. He said that, hard as he tried, he was unable to fathom Dayan’s intentions, and thought his decisions needed to be examined by a psychologist no less than by a historian.
In Shlaim’s overview Greater Israel was created by chance. It just happened, was not policy. In my analysis that conclusion is both right and wrong. Right because Israel’s national unity government did not go to war with the intention of creating the Greater Israel of gut-Zionism’s mad dream. Wrong because Dayan did. From the moment he became Defence Minister and consigned to the dustbin of history the Rabin-Eshkol plan for limited military action, it was his war, not the government’s war. It was Dayan who took most if not all of the critical decisions, and in the case of his decision to attack Syria, he took it without consulting or informing Prime Minister Eshkol and Chief of Staff Rabin until after the attack had been launched.
Dayan’s “appetite” for more land came not from “eating” – not simply because the opportunities to eat were there. He was hungry because he was a gut-Zionist, conditioned by centuries of persecution, traumatised by the Nazi holocaust, driven by the belief that Gentiles were never to be trusted and, above all, convinced that the world would one day turn against the Jews again. I know he was convinced because he told me so. When that day came, Israel had to be big enough and secure enough to serve as the refuge of last resort for all the Jews of the world. Israel confined to its pre-1967 borders was not big enough and did not possess sufficient natural resources, water especially.
I once said the following to Dayan in private conversation: “What you really fear is that a day will come when the major powers will require Israel to be the sacrificial lamb on the altar of political expediency – just as in 1947 and 1948 they required the Palestinians to be the sacrifice on that altar.” Dayan replied, “You could put it like that.” Then, after a long pause, he added, “But we won’t let it happen.” Though he did not say so, he meant, “We have an independent nuclear deterrent and nobody is going to make Israel do what it does not want to do.”
So is there really need to call in the psychologists to explain Dayan’s behaviour, including and especially his truth-telling in conversation with Rami Tal for publication after his death? I think not. If the Syrians “were not a threat to us”, why did he order the IDF to attack them and grab a chunk of their territory – i.e. if not for the sole purpose of completing Zionism’s Greater Israel project? There was a part of the Dayan I knew that wanted to say out loud: “I created Greater Israel. I delivered on the promise our founding fathers made.” But there was also a part of Zionism’s warlord that knew it would not be a good idea to say so – in case the Greater Israel of his creation turned out to be, as it has, a ghastly mistake.
Dayan was never entirely comfortable in the presence of non-Jews and gave me the impression that he was sometimes uncomfortable with himself. I think he went to his grave wondering whether he had done the right or wrong thing for the best interests of Jews everywhere. On that basis the main difference between Moshe Dayan and Golda Meir defines itself. In the privacy of her own conscience (as I indicated in Volume One, Chapter One) she had the courage at the end of her days to consider the possibility that Zionism might have done the wrong thing. Dayan, at times the most charming and most engaging war criminal I ever met, did not have that kind of courage. It was moral courage and he allowed Zionism to rob him of it.
As it happened, the most vivid expression of Zionism’s Great Lie about the 1967 war was given voice by Prime Minister Eshkol himself. In the Knesset on 12 June he asserted that the war had been started by “the Arab invasion of Israeli territory.” He then said: “The very existence of the State of Israel hung upon a thread, but Arab leaders’ hopes of annihilating Israel have been confounded.”
A week earlier, in the first moments of the war, Foreign Minister Eban had launched the lie with an equally remarkable and astonishing statement. In the course of his assertion to reporters (including me) that Israel was acting in self-defence, he said: “Never in history has there been a more righteous use of armed force.” In retrospect, it could and should be said that never in history has a country’s foreign minister talked such nonsense. Thereafter Israel’s ambassadors around the world spoke from Eban’s script.
We know that our leaders tell lies in war (and peace), and that disinformation is sometimes necessary if right is to triumph over wrong. But why, really, did Israel’s leaders lie, and lie so completely, in 1967?
Prime Minister Eshkol lied after the war because he had no choice. He could not say, “I lost control of events of my side to those who were determined to create the Greater Israel of Zionism’s mad dream.”
And the logic that drove the lie so far as Dayan was concerned can be summarised as follows: the bigger the lie, and the greater the authority with which it was told, the smaller the chance of Israel being branded where it mattered most – in the Security Council – as the aggressor.
Why, really, was it so important that Israel not be branded as the aggressor when it was?
Aggressors are not allowed to keep the territory they take by force. They have to withdraw from it unconditionally. That is the requirement of international law and also a fundamental principle which the UN is committed to uphold, as, for example, President Eisenhower did when Israel invaded Egypt in 1956. That is on the one hand.
On the other is the generally accepted view that when a state is attacked, is the victim of aggression, and then goes to war in self-defence and ends up occupying some or even all of the aggressor’s territory, the occupier has the right, in negotiations, to attach conditions to its withdrawal.
If in 1967 Israel had been branded as the aggressor, as it should have been, the Johnson administration would have had the choice of:
- taking the lead in demanding that Israel withdraw unconditionally, which would have required the Johnson administration to confront Zionism; or
- admitting that the U.S. had taken sides and was irrevocably committed to Zionism right or wrong – whatever the consequences for America’s own longer term best interests. In this case the world would have known, before 1967 had run its course, that the U.S could not be an honest and therefore an effective broker of peace in the Middle East.
In the process of taking sides with Zionism’s child, the Johnson administration not only gave Israel’s hawks the green light for war with Egypt, and not only used its diplomatic clout first to delay a Security Council demand for a cease-fire and then to block calls for an unconditional Israeli withdrawal. The Johnson administration assisted the IDF’s war machine by providing aerial reconnaissance in the form of some very special U.S. aircraft, the American pilots to fly them and the necessary technical support on the ground.
So far as I am aware the only published account of U.S. participation in the war on Israel’s side is in Stephen Green’s book. He stated that his principal source for the story was somebody who claimed to have been involved in the still Top Secret mission from start to finish. Though he had to protect the identity of his deep-throat and therefore did not name him, Green said he had “verified the story circumstantially” by checking “Air Force unit histories, commanders’ names, technical details and so forth.” He also noted that while he was seeking to confirm the story through contacts with other individuals who might have participated in the operation and senior officials in the Pentagon, White House and State Department, Air Force intelligence contacted several members of the units involved “reminding them of their obligations to maintain silence on any previous intelligence missions in which they had been involved.” (The main reason for Green’s satisfaction that the story was true was, he said, that “certain of the details provided by the source would have been very difficult to learn other than by participation in such a mission in Israel.”)
Assuming Green’s clinically detailed account to be correct – an assumption I make without reservation and not least because of the confirmation in principle I obtained from very high-level Israeli and American sources of my own – the American military contribution to the IDF’s war effort was spearheaded by planes and pilots of the 38th Tactical Reconnaissance Squadron of the 26th Tactical Reconnaissance Wing, U.S. Air Force. The 38th was based in Ramstein, West Germany. Its participating planes (four) were flown from there to the U.S. air base at Moron in Spain where they were joined, before flying to Israel on 4 June, by supporting elements from the 17th Tactical Reconnaissance Squadron of the 66th Tactical Reconnaissance Wing based at Upper Heyford near Oxford in England. At an Israeli air base in the Negev, the 38th’s planes were painted over with a white Star of David on a blue background and new tail numbers corresponding to actual inventory numbers in the Israeli Air Force.
The 38th’s planes were RF-4Cs. They were modified versions of the F-4 Phantom jet fighter. In June 1967 the RF-4C was state-of-the-art military reconnaissance and had been operational for only three years. It utilised cameras of various focal lengths and forward and side-looking radar (SLR) to provide both low and high altitude reconnaissance. Using radar and infrared sensors, which provided a thermal map of the area under reconnaissance, the RF-4C could operate by day or – this was the main reason for U.S. involvement – by night.
Without air cover because their own planes had been destroyed in the first two hours or so of the IDF’s aerial blitzkrieg, the Egyptians had to move their ground forces by night to avoid as much as possible the unopposed attacks of Israeli planes. The Israeli Air Force did not then have the necessary night-time aerial reconnaissance or strike capability. So the main task of the RF-4Cs was to track and photograph the movements of Egypt’s ground forces through the night so that, by dawn the following morning, IDF ground and air forces would know precisely where the enemy was and in what strength, and were positioned to attack without delay. The Sinai campaign of June 1967 was the most one-sided fight in the history of modern warfare. The Egyptians really had no more of a chance than turkeys awaiting the annual Christmas slaughter.
This American military assistance was provided to guarantee that the IDF achieved its objectives on the Egyptian front in the shortest possible time – before the U.S. came under irresistible pressure to stop blocking a Security Council resolution demanding a cease-fire and, initially, an unconditional Israeli withdrawal. The pre-war calculation of those in Washington’s war-loop was that the U.S. would not be able to delay things in the Security Council for probably more than three days. (In retrospect it is not difficult to understand why, before the war, the leaders of America’s intelligence community, CIA director Helms in particular, were so confident in their assurances to President Johnson that the IDF would achieve complete victory on the Egyptian front in three or four days. They had correctly assessed the effectiveness of the contribution the RF-4Cs were to make).
Initially the RF-4Cs were assigned to assist the IDF on only the Egyptian front. But their mission was extended when Israel went to war with Syria. The need then from Washington’s perspective was to help the IDF get that campaign done and dusted before the Soviet Union went over the brink and intervened.
Without American operational assistance it is at least possible that the IDF would have needed more time to destroy the Egyptian army in Sinai, and that in the extra time the U.S. might have come under irresistible international pressure to support a Security Council demand for a ceasefire earlier than it did. In this event the creation of Greater Israel – control of all of the West Bank and the grabbing of the Golan Heights – might not have happened.
For serious seekers of the truth, the record as set down for the Lyndon Baines Johnson Library Oral History Project is a goldmine, especially if the researcher is really focused. Some years after the 1967 war, the previously quoted Harry McPherson made the following contribution to that Oral History. He was reflecting on the nature of the “service” advisers give American Presidents.
“… you tend to view everything in terms of whether it hurts your Administration, your President and that sort of thing; or helps. You look at almost nothing from the point of view of whether it’s true or not. It’s only the sort of PR sense; what effect it will have on public support or lack of support for your Administration. And that’s a terrible way to get. It makes you very efficient. You become very quick. And you become good at offering advice on what your principal should do instantly. But you may miss the boat badly, because you haven’t really understood and taken in what the concern of the country is.”
For “concern of the country” read America’s own longer term and best real interests.
It was the case that the Middle East did not get enough of President Johnson’s quality time because he became increasingly distracted by the prospect of defeat for America in Vietnam; and that and other policy priorities, including his noble fight for the civil rights of black Americans, laid him open to manipulation by the supporters of Zionism right or wrong in his administration.
An example of how Zionism’s power brokers never missed an opportunity to manipulate Johnson was signposted by Macpherson’s recall of a particular comment the President made in an unguarded moment: “Damn it, they want me to protect Israel, but they don’t want me to do anything in Vietnam!”
“They” were both the government of Israel and the Jewish Americans who were in the vanguard of the growing anti-Vietnam war movement. The background context revealed by declassified documents makes it clear that Johnson was really pissed off (he undoubtedly would have put it like that in private) by the refusal of Israel’s government to support his “free world effort” in Vietnam, and by the opposition to that war of many Jewish Americans. (Except on the matter of Israel and the Palestinians, many Jewish Americans were and are, like many Jews everywhere, liberal, even left leaning, against injustice and for human rights).
Through 1965 and the early months of 1966, at President Johnson’s request, the State Department made strenuous efforts to get Israel to support the American war effort in Vietnam. The support required by the U.S. was the establishment of diplomatic relations between Israel and the Thieu regime in Saigon and the sending of Israeli rural health teams. In February 1966, when Israel was still saying “no” to American requests, Secretary of State Rusk instructed the American Ambassador in Tel Aviv to give the following message to Israeli Foreign Minister Eban. “Israel would rightly be the first to be frightened if the U.S. were to ‘cut and run’ in Vietnam. You should note that the U.S. is being most helpful to Israel currently, and that reciprocal gestures would be well received in Washington.”
In April 1966 U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Raymond Hare was sent to Israel to plead with Prime Minister Eshkol. Hare told him that the Vietnam problem was “now the touchstone of American foreign policy”, and that the U.S. government considered closer relations between Israel and the Thieu government to be “important.” Eshkol still said “no”. He stuck to the line that Israel’s relations with Asian and African developing nations would suffer if Israel supported America’s war in Vietnam.
So it was that President Johnson became increasingly irritated by Israel’s refusal and that of many Jewish Americans to support and be seen to be supporting his Vietnam War policy. (Hence his comment as quoted by McPherson.)
And that gave Zionism’s power brokers an opening to do some manipulating. They chose their moment well. On 7 June, the third day of the war, David Brody, Director of the Anti-Defamation League, was instructed to call at the White House to speak with two of President Johnson’s staffers, Larry Levinson and Ben Wattenberg. The Jewish community of America, Brody said, was concerned that the administration should not force Israel to “lose the peace” after it had won the war, as had been the case with Eisenhower after the Suez war. The reality was that Zionism’s power brokers were concerned that President Johnson might not yet be fixed in his determination to prevent Israel being required to withdraw unconditionally from occupied Arab territories. Brody went on to suggest that in future public statements on the war, the President ought to stress the “peace, justice and equity theme”, and should specifically not mention “territorial integrity” (as he had done in his pre-war statements). Levinson and Wattenberg then wrote a memorandum to the President quoting Brody’s advice and saying that it was good. “It could lead”, the memorandum stated, “to a great domestic political bonus – and not only from Jews. Generally speaking, it would seem that the Middle-East crisis can turn round a lot of anti-Vietnam, anti-Johnson feeling, particularly if you use it as an opportunity to your advantage.” Translated that meant the Zionist lobby in all of its manifestations would do its best to see that Jewish American opposition to the war in Vietnam was stifled – if President Johnson stuck to his guns and did not require Israel to withdraw without conditions as Eisenhower had done.
On its own the Levinson and Wattenberg memorandum probably did not have a major influence on President Johnson’s thinking, but it was part of a well-executed campaign, inside and outside the White House, to manipulate him by taking advantage of his preoccupation with the war in Vietnam.
True and tragic is that President Johnson knowingly took sides with Israel out of fear of offending Zionism and risking the loss, for himself and his party, of Jewish votes and Jewish campaign funds. And that required him to “miss the boat badly” by putting Zionism’s interests before America’s interests in the Middle East.
The man who had seen it all coming and tried to stop it happening before it was too late was the first U.S. Secretary of Defence, James Forrestal. As we have also seen, President Eisenhower shared Forrestal’s concerns, and for his two terms in office did insist that America’s interests should have priority over Zionism’s interests. And it is reasonable to speculate that a second-term President Kennedy would have followed Eisenhower’s lead. The problem by the time Lyndon Johnson became the leader of the so-called Free World can be simply stated – there was nobody with real influence on U.S. policy who was prepared to argue seriously for putting America’s own best interests first.
Secretary of State Dean Rusk and others knew that support for Zionism right or wrong was bound to have catastrophic consequences for America, eventually. But they also knew they could not buck their pork-barrel system.
Since this book was first published more information has come to light, much but not all of it from Liberty survivors, about who knew what when the spy ship was attacked.
It includes the fact that American intelligence agencies had taped intercepts of Israeli pilots telling ground control that their target was an America ship and asking if they were still required to attack it. The answer was, “Yes, follow orders.” Ray McGovern, 27 years with the CIA under seven presidents and the man who briefed some of them every morning, has confirmed that the NSA destroyed many tapes which proved the Israelis were lying when they said it was an “unfortunate accident” and a “case of mistaken identity”.
In this book I’ll leave the last word on why the Liberty was attacked to a senior IDF officer in conversation with Liberty survivor Don Paegler.
His task after the Israeli attack was to collect and try to re-assemble the bodies of those blown to pieces by Israeli bombs and torpedoes. Don’s own account, which he e-mailed to me, included this:
“The torpedo hit were I worked in the research spaces (commonly called the spook shack). I had top secret crypto security clearance, and when we reached Malta after the attack and put the ship in dry-dock, I was one of the first to go down to the torpedoed spaces to clean-up. Within the first 15 to 20 minutes, I picked up a piece of equipment. Under it was an arm. Although it had been soaked in salt water for a week, I knew whose arm it was. Phil Tiedke was a body builder and I could tell by the muscle structure it was his. It was like having an out of body experience. One of the men said, ‘You have to find the rest of the pieces of his body and make sure they all get in the same body bag.’ Another said, ‘They’re all blown apart, just put it in a bag and get on with it.’ Of the two days I spent down there cleaning up that is all I remember. .. When I arrived in Norfolk I was debriefed. I was told: ‘You have the highest security clearance anyone can get in this country. Never speak about this to anyone including your family.’”
There reason why Don decided to speak out was to do with his health. The post-traumatic stress caused by keeping the truth bottled up inside him had become a life threatening phenomenon. He put it this way:
“In 1985 I began to lose my vision. I could no longer see the centre strip in the road while driving. An optometrist examined my eyes and said I had a physical problem, not an eye problem. He referred me to a doctor who came in looking as white as a sheet after running his tests. He told me I should have died a long time ago. One of my major organs should have popped. My blood pressure was 240/145. He said it had been that way for a long time according to the damage to my eyes. Luckily I was having strokes in the retina of my eyes, instead of my heart or brain, where they could have killed me. I worked with Greg Jarvis who was on the Challenger shuttle when it blew up. After that I started having nightmares. Late in that year, balling like a baby, I drove off the San Diego Freeway on my way home to Orange County from work at Hughes Aircraft Co. in El Segundo. I cried for 10 minutes before I realized I was thinking about the Liberty. My doctor put me on heavy blood pressure medication for a year and a half. During that time my marriage of 20 years was dissolved.
“In February of 1987, I found out about Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) while watching a Simon & Simon episode. I finally called the VA hospital in Long Beach. They said they did not do the necessary treatment at their facility. The closest Vet Center to me was 5 blocks north of Disneyland. Within a month of being able to talk about the Liberty both blood pressure numbers dropped 30 points. In the late 1990′s I came down with Type II diabetes. While my doctor says stress is not the cause, he believes stress has contributed greatly to the severity of the disease.
“I attended group therapy from April 1987 to March 1990. During that time I had to confront many issues. One night a Marine from Viet Nam looked at me and said, ‘You guys got screwed as bad if not worse than anyone I knew in Viet Nam. You have every right to be as angry as you can be. But what are you going to do about your anger?’
“It took me over 4 years to answer that question. I would never write Congress. I’m not stupid. I have a college degree. I knew they would not do anything about it. Finally I realized that the only way I was going to get rid of my anger was by giving it to Congress. I wrote a three-page letter with 30 pages of documentation, including my medical charts, to every California and Kansas Congressman and Senator. They all passed the buck back to my local Congressman, Dana Rohrabacher. He asked me to come in and see him. He looked at me and said: ‘I have read everything you have written and all the material you sent me. There is no way I believe this was a mistake on the part of the Israelis. But I have to tell you, Congress will not touch this until after there is peace in the Middle East.’ That will not be in my life time. But I succeeded in getting rid of my anger (at least to a great degree). This man who fancies himself a supporter of Veterans had to face me and say, ‘You’re right and we don’t have the courage to do anything about it.’”
Don still shakes when he is stressed, but he has learned to live with the fact that his memory won’t allow him to recall everything that happened during the Israeli attack and the gathering up of the body parts after it. “This memory failure is only the body’s way of protecting you from pain,” he says.
And so to Don’s recall of his meeting with a senior IDF officer.
“I believe it was the fall of 2003 or 2004. My wife Eva and I (he had married again) were staying at a Best Western hotel in Taos, New Mexico. While we were walking down the hall, my wife noticed a man looking at my Liberty T-shirt. She said to him, “Are you interested in that shirt?” I heard her and turned to look at him. He had a sheepish look on his face and said, “I have to tell you, I was an officer in the Israeli Army in 1967 when you were attacked.” I was so impressed that he had the courage to say anything to my face that we asked him and his wife to meet us in the bar for a drink. I showed him my note book of the slide show I had created – 51 pages, 11 word charts and 100-plus photos. When I finished he looked at me and said: “I never could understand why the U.S. government spent so much time covering this up. When the Six Days War day war was over, Moshe Dayan briefed the entire officer cadre in the Israeli forces. When he came to the Liberty he made no bones about it. He said, ‘We tried to take out the Liberty because we did not want them to find out what our plans were.’”
The lesson of the cold-blooded attack on the Liberty was that there is nothing the Zionist state might not do, to its friends as well as its enemies, in order to get its own way.