Israel out of control
Since the attack went on for many hours, Israeli denials have no credibility. They are promising an “investigation.” In the meantime the observers are dead, and a chilling message has been sent. Israel does not want any independent expert accounts of its excessive use of force in Lebanon.
Some of us old-timers will recall a similar horrendous occurrence in the case of the US observer ship, The Liberty. The following is a slightly edited text of an excellent recent account by Eric S. Margolis.
“On the fourth day of the 1967 Arab Israeli War, the intelligence ship USS Liberty was steaming slowly in international waters, 14 miles off the Sinai Peninsula. Israeli armored forces were racing deep into Sinai in hot pursuit of the retreating Egyptian army.
“Liberty,” a World War II freighter, had been converted into an intelligence vessel by the US National Security Agency, and packed with the latest signaling and electronic interception equipment. The Liberty had been sent to Sinai to monitor communications of the belligerents in the Third Arab Israeli War: Israel and her foes, Egypt, Syria, and Jordan.
"At 0800 hrs, on June 8, 1967, eight Israeli reconnaissance flights flew over Liberty, which was flying a large American flag. At 1400 hrs, waves of low-flying Israeli Mystere and Mirage-III fighter-bombers repeatedly attacked the American vessel with rockets, napalm, and cannon. The air attacks lasted 20 minutes, concentrating on the ship's electronic antennas and dishes. The Liberty was left afire, listing sharply. Eight of her crew lay dead, a hundred seriously wounded, including the captain, Commander William McGonagle.
"At 1424 hrs, three Israeli torpedo boats attacked, raking the burning 'Liberty' with 20mm and 40mm shells. At 1431hrs an Israeli torpedo hit the Liberty midship, precisely where the signals intelligence systems were located. Twenty-five more Americans died.
"Israeli gunboats circled the wounded American vessel, firing at crewmen trying to fight the fires. At 1515, the crew were ordered to abandon ship. The Israeli warships closed and poured machine gun fire into the crowded life rafts, sinking two. As American sailors were being massacred in cold blood, a rescue mission by US Sixth Fleet carrier aircraft was mysteriously aborted on orders from the White House.
"The Israeli attacks killed 34 US seamen and wounded 171 out of a crew of 297, the worst loss of American naval personnel from hostile action since World War II.
"Less than an hour after the attack, Israel told Washington its forces had committed a “tragic error.” Later, Israel claimed it had mistaken the Liberty for an ancient Egyptian horse transport. US Secretary of State, Dean Rusk, and Joint Chiefs of Staff head, Admiral Thomas Moorer, insisted the Israeli attack was deliberate and designed to sink the American ship. So did three CIA reports; one asserted Israel's Defense Minister, Gen. Moshe Dayan, had personally ordered the attack.
"The savaging of the Liberty was quickly hushed up by President Lyndon Johnson and Defense Secretary Robert McNamara. The White House and Congress immediately accepted Israel's explanation and let the matter drop. Israel later paid a token reparation of US $6 million.
"Surviving Liberty crew members would not be silenced. They kept demanding an open inquiry and tried to tell their story of deliberate attack to the media. Israel's government worked behind the scenes to thwart these efforts, going so far as having American pro-Israel groups accuse the Liberty's survivors of being “anti-Semites” and “Israel-haters.” Major TV networks cancelled interviews with the crew.
"The attack on Liberty was fading into obscurity until last week, when intelligence expert James Bamford came out with Body of Secrets, his latest book about the National Security Agency. In a stunning revelation, Bamford writes that unknown to Israel, a US Navy EC-121 intelligence aircraft was flying high overhead the Liberty, electronically recorded the attack. The US aircraft crew provides evidence that the Israeli pilots knew full well that they were attacking a US Navy ship flying the American flag.
"Why did Israel try to sink a naval vessel of its benefactor and ally? Most likely because the Liberty's intercepts flatly contradicted Israel's claim, made at the war's beginning on 5 June, that Egypt had attacked Israel, and that Israel's massive air assault on three Arab nations was in retaliation. In fact, Israel began the war by a devastating, Pearl-Harbor style surprise attack that caught the Arabs in bed and destroyed their entire air forces.
"Israel was also preparing to attack Syria to seize its strategic Golan Heights. Washington warned Israel not to invade Syria, which had remained inactive while Israel fought Egypt. Bamford says Israel's offensive against Syria was abruptly postponed when the Liberty appeared off Sinai, then launched once it was knocked out of action. Israel's claim that Syria had attacked it could have been disproved by information gleaned from the Liberty. Most significant, Liberty's intercepts may have shown that Israel seized upon sharply rising Arab-Israeli tensions in May-June 1967 to launch a long-planned war to invade and annex the West Bank, Jerusalem, Golan and Sinai.
"Far more shocking was Washington's response. Writes Bamford: 'Despite the overwhelming evidence that Israel attacked the ship and killed American servicemen deliberately, the Johnson Administration and Congress covered up the entire incident. Why?
"Domestic politics. Johnson, a man never noted for high moral values, preferred to cover up the attack rather than anger a key constituency and major financial backer of the Democratic Party. Congress was even less eager to touch this “third rail” issue.
"The US government's long, disgraceful cover-up of the premeditated attack on the Liberty has now burst into the open and demands full-scale investigation. After 34 years, the voices of the Liberty's dead and wounded seamen must finally be heard.”
Eric S. Margolis’ excellent account, summarized above, dates from May 2, 2001.
I have no great affection for the Palestinians. Even if the Jews were to leave Israel tomorrow, the Palestinians would be unable to govern themselves satisfactorily. No Arab country has yet managed this, and the Palestinians are more hapless and quarrelsome than most. Their vicious homophobia puts them beyond the pale for me. I have even less respect for Hexbollah.
During the Vietnam War some held that if we couldn’t support the South Vietnamese government, corrupt and incompetent as it was, we must support the North. In fact neither deserved our support. The same is true in the Middle East today.
The Israelis seem to have learned nothing from our debacle in Iraq, and are seeking to have their way with pure military force. This will not work, and Hezbollah will emerge stronger than other.
I have just returned from Europe where the press reports of the Israeli attack and invasion are factual and, as far as possible, nonjudgmental. In the US the only debate seems to be how much fervor to summon in issuing a blank check to the Israeli excesses.