David M. Witty - The Liberty Incident: The 1967 Israeli Attack on the U.S. Navy Spy Ship (review) - Journal of Military History 67:1 The Journal of Military History 67.1 (2003) 299-300

The Liberty Incident: The 1967 Israeli Attack on the U.S. Navy Spy Ship. By A. Jay Cristol. Washington: Brassey's, 2002. ISBN 1-57488-414-X. Maps. Photographs. Illustrations. Appendixes. Notes. Bibliography. Index. Pp. xx, 294. $27.50.

On 8 June 1967, during the Six Day War fought by Israel against Syria, Jordan, and Egypt, the Israeli Air Force and Navy attacked a U.S. signals intelligence ship, the USS Liberty, killing thirty-four Americans and injuring 171. The Liberty was in a declared war zone, fourteen miles off the Sinai, but whether Israel knew it was attacking an American ship or mistakenly believed it was an Egyptian vessel has become fodder for outlandish conspiracy theories and added to the polemics of the Arab-Israeli conflict. One need only conduct a search for the USS Liberty on the Internet to see the scope of the material. The author convincingly concludes that the attack on the Liberty was the result of many tragic mistakes and that Israel did not knowingly attack an American ship.

A. Jay Cristol is uniquely qualified as a former U.S. Navy aviator and lawyer, civil lawyer, and federal judge to examine the Liberty incident. He conducted over five hundred interviews for this book and is the only non-Israeli to interview the pilots who attacked the Liberty. His research is based on every available source, including many recently de-classified documents. His sources and research are carefully cited and are maintained by the [End Page 299] Hoover Institution of Stanford University for further study.

The Liberty has been the subject of thirteen U.S. and Israeli investigations, all of which concluded that the attack was an accident. However, conspiracy theories abound because many of the documents and investigations remained classified for years, and since the U.S. has never factually stated the Liberty's mission, which was probably to monitor Egyptian communications. Some of the theories in circulation regarding the Liberty are that the U.S. and Israel colluded to attack the Liberty to destroy evidence that the U.S. was assisting Israel, that the Israelis attempted to destroy the ship because it intercepted Israeli transmissions which tricked Jordan into entering the war, and that Israel attacked the Liberty because the ship learned of Israel's secret intention to attack Syria. The author disproves these and other wild speculations and offers a critique of the large body of work on the subject. Some of the author's sharpest criticism is aimed at the recent book by James Bamford, Body of Secrets, and a History Channel program, Cover-Up: Attack on the USS Liberty, which was "produced without adequate research, fact-checking, and attention to detail" (p. 184).

The author concludes that the attack on the Liberty resulted from a series of mistakes—the failure of the Liberty to receive five transmitted orders directing it to leave the war zone, the Israeli Navy's eagerness to see action, a rivalry between the Israeli Navy and Air Force, the misidentification of the Liberty as an Egyptian ship, and several others. This book is a must for anyone studying the Liberty controversy, which it brings to a close.


David M. Witty
Amman, Jordan

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