Summary ... During the 1967 Six Day War, was the United States at war, too? And, if so, whose side was it on? It seems that the US sent the USS Liberty to spy on Israeli forces fighting in the Sinai while providing secret real-time battlefield intelligence to the Egyptian military. Israel was not supposed to discover this secret US betrayal, but they did and decided to only disable, but not to sink, the 'enemy' ship.
In May 1967, Egyptian dictator Gamal Nasser unilaterally demands and gets the prompt removal of United Nations monitors in the Sinai so he can move his large Egyptian army towards the Israeli border. Inexplicably, the US remains passive to this dangerous development.
Nasser blockades the Straits of Tiran, an act of war, which denies Israeli shipping from its southern port of Eilat. Israel appeals to the US to honor its 1957 promise to back Israel in case Egypt blocks Israeli access. The US refuses to act. Tiny Holland offers to join an international naval convoy to break the Egyptian blockade. The US still declines to act.
Gamal Nasser tells cheering Egyptians he intends to throw the Jews into the sea. Egypt and Syria are mobilized for war, with Soviet arms. Jordan's arsenal includes American tanks. Nasser's German scientists had provided missiles and poison gas, which Israel discovers later. Israel's generals warn that if the Arabs strike first, tiny Israel could suffer 40,000 dead (the American equivalent of nearly three million). Israel mobilizes her citizen army, which paralyzes her economy. Over two weeks pass and Israel cannot long bear the cost of a total mobilization.
President Lyndon Johnson fails to find a diplomatic solution. He offers no aid to Israel's suffering economy, no warning to the Arabs not to attack, and no offer to aid Israel if the Arabs attack. Instead, he asks Israel to refrain from any military action so he can have more time for diplomacy. McGeorge Bundy, the President's National Security Advisor, even declares in public that "America is neutral in thought, word and deed."
Egypt and Syria can feel confident because they have American neutrality plus Soviet weapons and Soviet backing. Jordan can feel confident because they are armed and supported by America. Israel has some French planes and British tanks, but no outside backing. They must sink or swim alone.
During the ensuing war, Israel attacked an American spy ship, the USS Liberty, killing 34 and wounding 171. There are conflicting versions of what actually happened.
The official version from both sides is that Israel mistook the Liberty for an Egyptian warship. Audio tapes suggest Israeli pilots were initially confused about the ship's identity. Nevertheless, this account still leaves troubling questions unanswered. What was the mission of the spy ship? Why was Israel not told of its presence? When the US military learned of its location, why did they urgently attempt to withdraw the ship if its mission was both official and innocent? Why did the National Security Agency (NSA) take control of the ship before the war? Who was acting on their own inside the NSA and for what purpose? Could the mission have been intentionally detrimental to Israel?
John Loftus, in his book The Secret War Against the Jews devotes an entire chapter to the Liberty incident. Israel wanted to demonstrate good faith towards America: "Realizing the danger of a massed Arab attack, the Israelis informed the United States of their intention to launch a preemptive strike, which the CIA promptly betrayed to the Arabs" [page 259 of Loftus' book]. But the Egyptians distrusted America and discounted the information. [John Loftus is a former U.S. Department of Justice Nazi War Crimes prosecutor, the President of the Florida Holocaust Museum, and a highly respected author.]
Loftus argues that the NSA, presumably acting alone, wanted to convince a skeptical Egypt that, despite their siding with the Soviets and their aggression against Israel, the US was really on their side, contrary to US public opinion. This is how an apparently rogue American agency decided to spy against Israel during wartime and secretly aid Israel's Egyptian enemy.
According to Loftus, the USS Liberty, a super high-tech intelligence ship, would spy on Israeli forces fighting in the Sinai while providing secret real-time battlefield intelligence to the Egyptian military. This would significantly increase Israeli casualties and conceivably affect the outcome of the war. Israel was not supposed to discover this secret American betrayal, but they did and decided to only disable, but not to sink, the 'enemy' ship.
If Loftus is right, then an American agency, on its own initiative, took part in an unauthorized war against Israel, without the knowledge of the Johnson Administration. If their purpose was to increase Israeli casualties, to impress the Egyptians, they only succeeded in needlessly causing American deaths and injuries. Loftus' charges are damning. Too many serious questions remain unanswered to declare this matter "case closed."
A nagging question remains. Suppose Israel heeded the American request to not preempt and, as a result, suffered a devastating Arab first strike that threatened her survival. Would the US have then responded militarily, and in time, to save Israel from destruction? We may never know the answer for certain, but one can't help wondering.
President Lyndon B. Johnson ordered the Joint Chiefs of Staff, under General Earle Wheeler, to do a study following the Six Day War on what territory was needed by Israel to survive as a nation, without America needing to come to her rescue.
The following was concluded in a secret report dated June 29, 1967: Israel was advised not to abandon her furthest borders and whatever high ground she held. According to the report that accompanied the map, the Joint Chiefs said:
"Returning Israel to pre-1967 boundaries would drastically increase its vulnerability. Israel would be threatened by West Bank artillery and tactical SAMs - a sword constantly over its head and the need to maintain readiness with prohibitive mobilization costs. For stable future Arab-Israeli agreements, Israel must feel it can wait out a crisis rather than strike preemptively. Israel should retain... the Gaza Strip, mountains and plateaus of the West Bank, the tip of the Sinai, Sharm El-Sheikh, the Golan Heights east of Quneitra and all of Jerusalem."
The report was kept secret, which denied Israel an essential bargaining point in future negotiations. It eventually came to light when revealed in the Wall Street Journal on March 9, 1983, but it remains ignored. US official policy to this day remains committed to a full Israeli pullback on all fronts except for minor adjustments. Since June 2002, President George Bush supports the creation of a "Palestinian Arab state" inside Judea and Samaria (West Bank), which was never previously US policy. What was unworkable in 1967 is even more unworkable and dangerous today.
After the war, America replaced the tanks lost by Jordan in attacking Israel. America had earlier assured Israel that US tanks sent to Jordan would never be used to attack Israel. Jordan was never punished for violating that pledge. The US was also slow in supplying Israel with F-4 Phantom fighter bombers to replace the fifty French fighter planes that France embargoed against Israel in violation of their contract.
The Six-Day War could have been avoided had America and NATO warned Egypt and Syria against aggression towards Israel. Israel was forced to fight an avoidable war at great cost. Her quick victory belied the danger she faced had she not preempted, or had other things gone wrong. America did nothing to help Israel against her enemies, but still benefited politically in seeing two major Soviet clients, Egypt and Syria, soundly defeated. The American people, and Congress, were solidly in support of Israel, but few grasped all of what really happened. [I, personally, would disagree with the last statement, as the rest of the information, and others, proves different.—ed]
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