Was the 1967 Israeli attack on the USS Liberty deliberate? The US is morally bound to find out.
It was the fourth day of the Six-Day War. The large intelligence-gathering ship was in international waters, proudly flying the US flag and clearly marked as the USS Liberty. Conditions were calm and clear, but by day's end 34 American sailors were killed and 172 injured.
There is still a fierce debate over the question of whether the attack by Israeli forces was deliberate, allegedly mounted to disrupt US intelligence collection and provide cover for the day-five invasion of Syria and capture of the Golan Heights. Against this serious accusation, a book by retired US judge A. Jay Cristol, The Liberty Incident, contends that the attack was undertaken by Israeli jet fighters and Israeli torpedo boats, but was accidental.
The Pentagon has ugly spin form — just ask the family of Pat Tillman killed by friendly fire in Afghanistan but initially reported otherwise. In relation to the 34 sailors killed by Israeli forces in 1967, it is corrosive in the extreme that the Pentagon did not fiercely fight to uncover the truth.
To the thousands of US and Allied forces, this is the really ugly part — the cause of their death will be airbrushed out if it is politically inconvenient for it to be revealed.
There are further allegations that US defence secretary of the time Robert McNamara and president Lyndon Johnson ordered US fighters, launched from a nearby US aircraft carrier, to turn back and not go to the defence of the USS Liberty. Again, the world is entitled to know whether this is true or not.
Why is this important 40 years on? Because Israel needs to know that it will be exposed and held accountable for its actions and incidents, likewise Syria and the Palestinians, the latter of whom might contend the Liberty saga was one factor in delaying the creation of the nation state of Palestine
A former attorney-general of Israel, Michael Ben-Yair, once made a famous observation: "The Six-Day War was forced upon us, the seventh day continues to this day and is our choice."