The Attack on the USS Liberty Symbolizes Israel’s Duplicity and Deceit

Damaged USS Liberty one day after attack (9 June 1967)

“The State of Israel will be judged not by its wealth, nor by its army, nor by its technology, but by its moral character and its human values.”

– Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion, 1955, Israel’s first prime minister and defense minister.

Fifty-seven years ago during the Six-Day War (June 8, 1967), Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) brutally attacked a U.S. naval intelligence ship that was seconded to the National Security Agency (NSA) for intercepting communications in the Middle East.  Thirty-four American sailors were killed in the attack, and 171 were wounded by unmarked Mirage fighter aircraft using cannons and rockets.  Israeli boats fired machine guns at close range at those helping the wounded, including a Soviet naval vessel that was trying to rescue U.S. sailors; they also machine-gunned life rafts that survivors had dropped in hopes of abandoning the ship.  The Israelis immediately called the disaster a “random accident.” It wasn’t “random” and it wasn’t an “accident,” but the NSA investigation of the assault remains classified to this day.

Israeli duplicity in their relations with the United States was displayed as early as 1955, when Israeli intelligence operatives bombed a U.S. library in Alexandria, Egypt, and the Israeli government placed the blame on Egyptian operatives.  This covert action was designed to stop the United States from funding the Aswan Dam in Egypt.  Several decades later, Israeli intelligence recruited a U.S. naval intelligence officer, Jonathan Pollard, to provide sensitive U.S. intelligence, despite the reams of intelligence that the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) was sharing with Israel.

Pollard sold numerous state secrets, including the NSA’s ten-volume manual on how the U.S. gathers its signals intelligence as well as the names of thousands of people who had cooperated and were cooperating with U.S. intelligence agencies.  Some of Pollard’s documents ended up with the Soviet Union’s KGB, and the loss of sensitive signals intelligence contributed to several successful Palestinian terrorist attacks against Israel. The Israelis maintained for years that the Pollard operation was an unauthorized rogue affair.  More lies.

Israeli deceit in their relations with the United States continues to this day.  U.S. weapons have been used illegally in Israeli wars, including the current genocidal attacks in Gaza.  U.S. weapons technology and the weapons themselves have been provided to third countries in violation of Israeli agreements with the United States.  The United States has never challenged the obnoxious personal attacks on its leaders by Israeli leaders, particularly Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

The current war in Gaza is replete with examples of Israeli denials and explanations that defy reality.  Israel has denied placing limits on humanitarian aid entering Gaza, which couldn’t be more counter-intuitive or counter-factual.  After all, there are famine conditions in the north and south of Gaza as well as ample evidence of Israels preventing aid trucks from entering Gaza.  There is no serious evidence that the Israelis are willing to investigate the brutal attacks that have taken place.  Israeli spokesmen describe the current Rafah operation as a “limited incursion,” which is belied by satellite photography that shows Israeli forces moving closer to the center of the city as well as the collapsed buildings and debris in the eastern parts of the city.

“The pattern of attacks” on aid workers, according to the Secretary General of Doctors Without Borders, Christopher Lockyear, “is either intentional or indicative of reckless incompetence.”  Israel’s 16-year blockade of Gaza at least permitted a stable food situation in the territory, but now Israeli Defense Forces ignore Israeli right-wing activists who destroy food headed for Gaza’s refugees.

The Israeli military states that it would “never deliberately target aid convoys and workers,” but this too is a bald-faced lie.  Hundreds of Palestinian aid workers have been killed, but it was not until non-Arab workers were killed in a malicious attack that the international community expressed outrage.  This has not stopped Netanyahu from proclaiming that Palestinians “sanctify death while we sanctify life.  They sanctify cruelty while we sanctify compassion.”

Last week’s disgraceful attack on a tent camp in Rafah was the latest example of Israel’s lack of moral compunction in the killing of innocent civilians, even children.   The many Israeli wars against the Palestinians have demonstrated Israel’s ease in destroying homes and olive groves, but the increased killing of children reveals the absence of a moral compass  among Israeli civilian and military leaders.

The anniversary of the Liberty attack is a reminder that there are no limits to Israeli perfidy.  In June 1967, I was a junior analyst at the CIA working on the Six-Day War.  Our task force knew that the Israeli attack took place after six hours of intense, low-level reconnaissance.  The attack itself was conducted over a two-hour period by unmarked fighter aircraft.  According to Israeli archives, at least one of the pilots instructed to attack the Liberty communicated “But Sir, It’s an American Ship.”  He was told “Never Mind, Hit Her!”

Even today, Michael Oren, a former Israeli ambassador to the United States, maintains that the operation was an accident: “There was a lot of chaos. It was a classic screw-up.”  Another former ambassador to the United States, Ron Dermer, one of Netanyahu’s closest colleagues, once remarked that Israeli Defense Forces should be given a Nobel Peace Prize for its use of “knock on the roof” warning shots before they destroy homes that often house numerous members of extended families that are seeking shelter.  No warning was given to the Palestinian refugees in the Rafah encampment. Both Oren and Dermer would born in the United States and educated at Ivy League institutions.

Meanwhile, U.S. officials at the highest levels continue to maintain that the Israelis have crossed no “red lines” in their genocidal attacks in Rafah.  John Kirby, the spokesman for national security adviser Jake Sullivan, even maintained that Israeli use of precision guided weapons in Rafah “indicates a desire to be more deliberate and more precise in their targeting.”  When pressed, Kirby blithely maintained that he needed “more granularity” to explain the civilian losses.  The Palestinian in Rafah who held a girl’s brain in one hand and a bag full of body parts in the other hand should be sufficient “granularity.”

Several Biden administration officials and Department of States officials have resigned because of U.S. complicity with Israeli genocidal operations as well as the U.S. official view that Israel has not impeded humanitarian assistance to Gaza.  Meanwhile, the Palestinian death toll is climbing, and Israeli military operations are increasing, but the trio of Biden, Blinken, and Sullivan contend that no “red lines” have been crossed.

It is long past time for the United States to demonstrate openly and emphatically its revulsion over Israeli war crimes and to end U.S. military aid that enables Israel to pursue its genocidal attacks.  It is also time for the United States to fully support an immediate ceasefire in Gaza.  The consistent U.S. use of its veto of ceasefire resolutions in the UN Security Council is unconscionable.

Melvin A. Goodman is a senior fellow at the Center for International Policy and a professor of government at Johns Hopkins University.  A former CIA analyst, Goodman is the author of Failure of Intelligence: The Decline and Fall of the CIA and National Insecurity: The Cost of American Militarism. and A Whistleblower at the CIA. His most recent books are “American Carnage: The Wars of Donald Trump” (Opus Publishing, 2019) and “Containing the National Security State” (Opus Publishing, 2021). Goodman is the national security columnist for