Tuesday, May 12, 2009


Adam Larson / Caustic Logic
May 12 2009

So far in my studies on the USS Liberty incident, there has been a general acceptance among apologists as to when and why fighter aircraft were called in. The Motor Torpedo Boats were first dispatched to ‘investigate’ the erred shelling reports, and it was supposedly their erred radar reading that added the urgency only fighters could answer – another escalation based on error, typical of friendly fire incidents. I’m not familiar with the full body of evidence and arguments, but I’ll cite two of the most prominent that I have in front of me. Michael B. Oren’s 2000 article Case Closed explained:
"The torpedo boats gave chase, but even at their maximum speed of 36 knots, they did not expect to overtake their target before it reached Egypt. Rahav therefore alerted the air force, and two Mirage III fighters were diverted from the Suez Canal, northeast to the sea."[1]

Judge Jay A. Cristol’s 2003 The Liberty Incident likewise reasoned “if the Liberty continued at twenty-eight knots, as the Israeli naval force thought,” then the MTB’s current 36 knots could not close the gap before the enemy reached ‘home port.’ Their top speed of 42 might have sufficed, but still… Being fond of discussing some ‘rivalry’ between Isreali air force and navy, Cristol reasons as others have, “if the Israeli Navy had believed it could reach and overtake the target, it is inconceivable that the navy would have called for help from the air force.” Cristol cites the Stella Maris log entry: “Division 914 is reporting that targets are sailing west at 30 knots. An order was made to double check speed. He can not chase them. Suggests dispatch aircraft.” [2]

The aircraft arrived shortly, misidentified Liberty as a destroyer and blew the hell out of the hull and the American kids on it. It might then seem a tragic result of a natural response to a reasonable radar error. The reality of the evidence is that this dispatch of combat-ready aircraft was agreed to well before the navy knew what the radar returns would tell them. The MTB division’s log book shows for the 1321 entry “Div asked sea/3 “When will aircraft be dispatched?” Sea/3 answered, “When we have radar contact.”" Sea/3 means Stella Maris. The next entry was twenty minutes later, reporting said contact. [3]

This log makes no mention of the speed or heading, nor a request for aircraft. Instead, it just notes that jets are now on their way, directed to make radio contact once there. It seems to me the MTB and Sea/3 logs are offset about four minutes, so the div’s 1321 corresponds to Sea/3’s 1317: “Shelling of El Arish from the sea is continuing. It was reported to Moshe Oren and he was ordered to tune into air/sea channels 86 and 186 as our aircraft are en route.” 1320’s entry is a similar repetition, and 1343 has “MTB Div has a contact. Looks like it is maneuvering.” THEN the 1347 entry cited by Cristol, that the div was requesting air assistance because of the target’s speed. [4]

That the dispatch was already planned, and the jets already on their way before radar contact was made, to read Sea/3, could have non-conspiratorial reasons; perhaps it was presumed or guessed that the target would be too fast. To divert aircraft while in heavy combat mode is not done lightly, but this either seemed a serious danger, or was a serious operation of some kind and warranted a pre-arranged dispatch “just in case.”

However, this only heightens the surreality of the radar reading that only confirmed what the command had already decided. I'm no expert, but I'll say flat out that a 28 knot reading for a five-knots vessel is not at all likely; I’ve still seen no plausible reason a several minute radar watch should result in a nearly 600% error of speed, plus a 23 degree heading error indicating it had an Egyptian home. That this whole radar contact business looks like just a formality for a pre-decided course multiplies this troubling reality sixfold again.

Neither Judge Cristol nor Michael Oren mentions this pre-existing agreement. As I noted there could be an honest explanations, but there are already so many errors and questionable decisions to explain, it’s understandable they would just wait for the part where the ‘request’ was made, since that fits more simply and gracefully with the natural flow-of-errors narrative. It does not fit as well with the truth.

[1]Oren, Michael B. The 'USS Liberty': Case Closed. Azure, Spring 2000. http://web.archive.org/web/20000917231200/http://www.azure.org.il/9-Oren.htm
[2] Cristol, Jay A. The Liberty Incident: The 1967 Israeli Attack on the U.S. Navy Spy Ship. Brasseys, 2003. Page 39.
[3] Israeli Defense Forces. Division 914 war log. WARL914. June 8 1967. PDF available at: http://www.thelibertyincident.com/israellogs.html
[4] Israeli Defense Forces. Sea Section/3 war log. WARLN. June 8 1967. PDF available at above link.

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