June 8, 1967: Israel Attacks USS Liberty

Source: Maritime Excutive

Israeli aircraft and torpedo boats attacked the USS Liberty in international waters off Egypt’s Gaza Strip. Israeli aircraft fired napalm and rockets at the intelligence ship that was well marked as a U.S. vessel. The Liberty called for assistance but radio transmissions were blocked by Israel. The lightly armed vessel was eventually able to make contact with the U.S. carrier, Saratoga, whose 12 fighter jets and four tanker planes were launched to defend the Liberty.

Shortly after the aircraft were deployed, Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara ordered the planes to return to the carrier.  The Israeli air raid left nine of the 294 crew members dead and 60 wounded. Israeli torpedo boats also attacked the Liberty. The ship successfully dodged four of the torpedoes but was hit at the waterline by one. With severe damage to its hull, the Liberty launched its life boats, but these were also met with attack, a violation of international law. The Liberty did not sink and Israel retreated. The damaged USS Liberty managed to sail to a safe port. A total of 34 Americans were killed and 171 were wounded in the two hour attack.

Israel later apologized for the attack and paid $6.9 million as compensation to the families of the dead and wounded. In 1980, Israel and the U.S. came to an additional settlement of $6 million plus 13 years of interest for damages to the vessel. Israel claims they had mistaken the Liberty for an Egyptian military vessel. U.S.and Israeli reports also concluded the attack was a mistake due to confusion of the identity of the ship. However, Liberty survivors and some U.S. officials from the time say they believe the attack was intentional; done in order to conceal Israel’s planned seizure of Syria’s Golden Heights, which occurred the next day. Officials say that the Liberty, an intelligence ship, would have picked up in the communications in planning the controversial seizure of Golan Heights.  

 

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