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The USS Liberty And A Few More Facts

 

This is a response to a column that appeared in a school paper in 2004

The rest of the story

Thanks to DI columnist Mariam Sobh for her recent discussion of the Israeli bombing of the USS Liberty on June 8, 1967 ("Legacy of Suspicion," Nov. 20). I would just like to place the incident in its broader historical context.

On May 19, 1967, Egypt demanded the withdrawal of U.N. troops who were monitoring the Gulf of Aqaba region. On May 22, Egypt committed an act of war against Israel when it illegally closed the Straits of Tiran to Israeli ships. Meanwhile, Egypt and Israel's other neighbors, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria, but also non-neighbors Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and Iraq, had amassed 547,000 troops along Israel's borders, with the openly declared intent of destroying Israel for good. After Israel attacked Egypt, these other countries attacked Israel along its other borders.

In its defensive war for its very survival, Israel gained the entirety of the Sinai Peninsula from Egypt and the Golan Heights from Syria. Israel also captured the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. Both these regions had been intended for a free and independent Palestinian state, according to U.N. Resolution 181, but instead had been illegally annexed by Egypt and Jordan, respectively, in 1949, temporarily dashing any Palestinian dream of statehood in this territory. Israel returned the Sinai to Egypt when that country finally signed a peace treaty with Israel in 1979, but in 1994, Jordan refused to accept the return of the West Bank. Jordan's washing its hands of the region was a precondition of King Hussein's peace treaty with Israel that year.

Back to 1967. During the six days of actual combat, Israel bombed the Liberty, as Sobh writes. But almost every agency and individual that has investigated the incident concluded that it was a case of mistaken identity. James Ennes and some others aboard the Liberty maintain that the attack was deliberate, but these tragic victims may not be in the best position to conclude that the attack was an intentional one. No one denies that Israel attacked the Liberty, but the very fact that the ship's crew was taken unawares strongly suggests that their intelligence gathering was insufficient to come to a solid conclusion regarding the actual intent of the Israelis. Regarding Ennes' subsequent investigation, it is surely understandable when war victims seek comforting answers to ease their psychological suffering, but sometimes "friendly fire" is the unsettling truth. At any rate, why would Israel deliberately attack a ship belonging to its staunchest ally? It really doesn't make much sense. Although continuing to maintain that the attack was a case of mistaken identity, Israel apologized to the U.S., and paid reparations to survivors and to families of victims of the Liberty attack.

Given these additional facts, which Sobh is either unaware of or chooses not to report, some might regard it as premature to conclude that the Liberty incident constitutes, "one of the most horrific and deliberate attacks against the United States," as she characterizes it. At any rate, I do thank Sobh and The Daily Illini for this column. It is only through the open discussion a free press allows that, to quote Sobh, "the truth will prevail."

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