Who's afraid of the Israel Lobby? Virtually everyone:
Republican, Democrat – Conservative, Liberal. The fear factor is non-partisan,
you might say, and palpable. The American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC)
brags that it is the most influential foreign policy lobbying organization on
Capitol Hill, and has demonstrated that time and again – and not only on Capitol
Seldom has the Lobby's power been as clearly demonstrated as in its ability
to suppress the awful truth that on June 8, 1967, during the Six Day War:
* Israel deliberately attacked the intelligence collection ship USS Liberty,
in full awareness it was a U.S. Navy ship, and did its best to sink it and leave
* The Israelis would have succeeded had they not broken off the attack upon
learning, from an intercepted message, that the commander of the U.S. 6th
Fleet had launched carrier fighters to the scene; and
* By that time 34 of the Liberty's crew had been killed and over 170
Scores of intelligence analysts and senior officials have known this for years.
That virtually all of them have kept a forty-year frightened silence is testament
to the widespread fear of touching this live wire. Even more telling is the
fact that the National Security Agency apparently has destroyed voice tapes
and transcripts heard and seen by many intelligence analysts, material that
shows beyond doubt that the Israelis knew exactly what they were doing.
The Ugly Truth
But the truth will come out – eventually. All
it took in this case was for a courageous journalist (an endangered species)
to listen to the surviving crew and do a little basic research, not shrinking
from naming war crimes and not letting senior U.S. officials, from the president
on down, off the hook for suppressing – even destroying – damning evidence from
intercepted Israeli communications.
The mainstream media have now published an exposé based largely on interviews
with those most intimately involved. A
lengthy article by Pulitzer Prize winning investigative reporter John Crewdson
appeared in the Chicago Tribune and Baltimore Sun on Oct. 2 titled
"New revelations in attack on American spy ship." To the subtitle
goes the prize for understatement of the year: "Veterans, documents suggest
U.S., Israel didn't tell full story of deadly 1967 incident."
Better 40 years late than never, I suppose. Many of us have known of the incident
and cover-up for a very long time and have tried to expose and discuss it for
the lessons it holds for today. It has proved far easier, though, to get a very
pedestrian Dog-Bites-Man article published than an article with the importance
and explosiveness of this sensitive story.
A Marine Stands Up
On the evening of Sept. 26, 2006, I gave a talk
on Iraq to an overflow crowd of 400 at National Avenue Church in Springfield,
Missouri. A questioner asked what I thought of the study by John Mearsheimer
of the University of Chicago and Stephen Walt of Harvard titled The
Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy. The study had originally been
commissioned by The Atlantic Monthly. When the draft arrived, however,
shouts of "Leper!" were heard at the Atlantic. The monthly
wasted no time in saying thanks-but-no-thanks, and the leper-study then wandered
in search of a home, finding none among American publishers. Eventually the
London Review of Books published it in March 2006.
I had read that piece carefully and found it an unusual act of courage as well
as scholarship. That's what I told the questioner, adding that I did have two
problems with the study:
First, it seemed to me the authors erred in attributing virtually all the motivation
for the U.S. attack on Iraq to the Israel Lobby and the so-called "neoconservatives"
running our policy and armed forces. Was Israel an important factor? Indeed.
But of equal importance, in my view, was the oil factor and what the Pentagon
now calls the "enduring" military bases in Iraq, which the White House
and Pentagon decided were needed for the U.S. to dominate that part of the Middle
Second, I was intrigued by the fact that Mearsheimer and Walt made no mention
of what I believe to be, if not the most telling, then perhaps the most sensational
proof of the power the Lobby knows it can exert over our government and Congress.
In sum, in June 1967, after deliberately using fighter-bombers and torpedo boats
to attack the USS Liberty for over two hours in an attempt to sink it and kill
its entire crew, and then getting the U.S. government, the Navy, and the Congress
to cover up what happened, the Israeli government learned that it could – literally
– get away with murder.
I found myself looking out at 400 blank stares. The USS Liberty? And so I asked
how many in the audience had heard of the attack on the Liberty on June 8, 1967.
Three hands went up; I called on the gentleman nearest me.
Ramrod straight he stood:
"Sir, Sergeant Bryce Lockwood, United States Marine Corps, retired.
I am a member of the USS Liberty crew, Sir."
Catching my breath, I asked him if he would be willing to tell us what happened.
"Sir, I have not been able to do that. It is hard. But it has been
almost 40 years, and I would like to try this evening, Sir."
You could hear a pin drop for the next 15 minutes, as Lockwood gave us his
personal account of what happened to him, his colleagues, and his ship on the
afternoon of June 8, 1967. He was a linguist assigned to collect communications
intelligence from the USS Liberty, which was among the ugliest – and most easily
identifiable – ships in the fleet with antennae springing out in all directions.
Lockwood told of the events of that fateful day, beginning with the six-hour
naval and air surveillance of the Liberty by the Israeli navy and air force
on the morning of June 8. After the air attacks including thousand-pound bombs
and napalm, three sixty-ton torpedo boats lined up like a firing squad, pointing
their torpedo tubes at the Liberty's starboard hull. Lockwood had been ordered
to throw the extremely sensitive cryptological equipment overboard and had just
walked beyond the bulwark separating the NSA intelligence unit from the rest
of the ship when, he recalled, he sensed a large black object, a tremendous
explosion, and sheet of flame. The torpedo had struck dead center in the NSA
The cold, oily water brought Lockwood back to consciousness. Around him were
25 dead colleagues; but he heard moaning. Three were still alive; one of Lockwood's
shipmates dragged one survivor up the hatch. Lockwood was able to lift the two
others, one-by-one, onto his shoulder and carry them up through the hatch. This
meant alternatively banging on the hatch for someone to open it and swimming
back to fish his shipmate out of the water lest he float out to sea through
the 39-foot hole made by the torpedo.
At that Lockwood stopped speaking. It was enough. Hard, very hard – even after
almost 40 years.
What Else We Know
John Crewdson's meticulously documented article,
together with the 57 pages that James Bamford devotes to the incident in his
of Secrets and recent confessions by those who played a role in the
cover-up, paint a picture that the surviving crew of the USS Liberty
can only find infuriating. The evidence, from intercepted communications as
well as testimony, of Israeli deliberate intent is unimpeachable, even though
the Israelis continue to portray the incident as merely a terrible mistake.
Crewdson refers to U.S. Navy Captain Ward Boston, who was the Navy lawyer appointed
as senior counsel to Admiral Isaac C. Kidd, named by Admiral John S. McCain
(Sen. John McCain's father) to "inquire into all the facts and circumstances."
The fact that they were given only one week to gather evidence and were forbidden
to contact the Israelis screams out "cover-up."
Captain Boston, now 84, signed a formal declaration on Jan. 8, 2004 in which
he described himself as "outraged at the efforts of the apologists for
Israel in this country to claim that this attack was a case of ‘mistaken identity.'"
"The evidence was clear. Both Admiral Kidd and I believed with certainty
that this attack...was a deliberate effort to sink an American ship and murder
its entire crew...Not only did the Israelis attack the ship with napalm, gunfire,
and missiles, Israeli torpedo boats machine-gunned three lifeboats that had
been launched in an attempt by the crew to save the most seriously wounded –
a war crime...I know from personal conversations I had with Admiral Kidd that
President Lyndon Johnson and Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara ordered him
to conclude that the attack was a case of 'mistaken identity' despite overwhelming
evidence to the contrary."
Why the Israelis decided to take the draconian measure of sinking a ship of
the U.S. Navy is open to speculation. One view is that the Israelis did not
want the U.S. to find out they were massing troops to seize the Golan Heights
from Syria, and wanted to deprive the U.S. of the opportunity to argue against
such a move. Another theory: James Bamford, in Body of Secrets,"
adduces evidence, including reporting from an Israeli journalist eyewitness
and an Israeli military historian, of wholesale killing of Egyptian prisoners
of war at the coastal town of El Arish in the Sinai. The Liberty was
patrolling directly opposite El Arish in international waters but within easy
range to pick up intelligence on what was going on there. And the Israelis were
As for the why, well, someone could at least approach the Israelis involved
and ask, no? The important thing here is not to confuse what is known (the deliberate
nature of the Israeli attack) with the purpose behind it, which remains a matter
Bowing to intense pressure from the Navy, the
White House agreed to award the Liberty's skipper, Captain William McGonagle,
the Medal of Honor....but not at the White House, and not by the president (as
is the custom). Rather, the Secretary of the Navy gave the award at the Washington
Navy Yard on the banks of the acrid Anacostia River. A naval officer involved
in the awards ceremony told one of the Liberty crew, "The government is
pretty jumpy about Israel...the State Department even asked the Israeli ambassador
if his government had any objections to McGonagle getting the medal."
Adding insult to injury, those of the Liberty crew who survived well enough
to call for an independent investigation have been hit with charges of, you
guessed it, anti-Semitism.
Now that some of the truth is emerging more and more, others are showing more
courage in speaking out. In a recent email, an associate of mine who has followed
Middle East affairs for almost 60 years, shared the following:
"The chief of the intelligence analysts studying the Arab/Israeli region
at the time told me about the intercepted messages and said very flatly and
firmly that the pilots reported seeing the American flag and repeated their
requests for confirmation of the attack order. Whole platoons of Americans saw
those intercepts. If NSA now says they do not exist, then someone ordered them
Leaving the destruction of evidence without investigation is an open invitation
to repetition in the future.
As for the larger picture, visiting Israel this past summer I was constantly
told that Egypt forced Israel into war in June 1967. This does not square with
the unguarded words of Menachem Begin in 1982, when he was Israel's prime minister.
Rather he admitted publicly:
"In June 1967, we had a choice. The Egyptian army concentrations in
the Sinai approaches do not prove that [Egyptian President] Nasser was really
about to attack us. We must be honest with ourselves. We decided to attack him."
Israel had, in fact, prepared well militarily and mounted provocations against
its neighbors, in order to provoke a response that could be used to justify
an expansion of its borders. Israel's illegal 40-year control over and confiscation
of land in the occupied territories and U.S. enabling support (particularly
the one-sided support by the current U.S. administration) go a long way toward
explaining why it is that 1.3 billion Muslims "hate us."
This article was first posted on Consortiumnews.com