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From what I remember reading, during the Kennedy administration, the US considered bombing or taking over Israel's suspected nuclear development sites. However, now, many people and both major parties in the US give Israel unconditional support. What caused this dramatic shift?

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    Was there any serious consideration to bombing the nuclear development sites? I feel that sort of claim requires some evidence to back it up as I have never heard of that before and I am guessing there are a lot of others who have never heard it as well. Because of that it is very hard to give a good answer.
    – Joe W
    Dec 7, 2023 at 19:25
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    you misrepresent Kennedy attitudes - he was actually already supportive of Israel, contrary to the previous administrations. I suggest that you add a reference regarding the bombing bit - as of now it lacks the context. Dec 7, 2023 at 19:31
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    Maybe the question needs to do away with the - contentious - claim about Kennedy's intentions. There was a shift of sentiment at some point which makes it a valid question. But a better example is needed to illustrate that. Or actual references backing up the claims concerning Kennedy's position. Certainly, just to take one aspect, US military aid and collaboration has not always been at today's level, far from it. Possibly past records of votes (and vetos) at the UN Security Council would also serve as substantiation. Dec 8, 2023 at 1:03
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    The premise of this question is false. There was never any "dramatic" shift in US support for Israel. The US did object to Israel's nuclear program but the US also objects to any nuclear proliferation anywhere in the world.
    – user103496
    Dec 9, 2023 at 4:36
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    Your vague recollection that the the US was considering bombing or taking over Israels suspected nuclear development sites is almost certainly false. The closest is probably this: the former Israel Air Force commander ... seriously entertained the fear that Kennedy might send U.S. airborne troops to Dimona, the home of Israel’s nuclear complex (Haaretz, 2019). But that was merely a fear expressed by an Israeli commander, not something that was seriously considered by the US/Kennedy.
    – user103496
    Dec 9, 2023 at 4:38

5 Answers 5

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The United States was among the first countries in the world to support the formation of the state of Israel and has generally been sympathetic to the plight of Jews during and after World War II.

The support for Israel in the United States on average has been growing since then. It is widely perceived to be a steadfast ally of the United States, a stable Western democracy with a long tradition of a stable, free market economy, thus a rare exception among the neighboring states in the Middle East.

It is therefore not surprising that, with a few exceptions, such as the one you mentioned, the United States supported Israel, especially after the 1967 war.

References:

On May 14, 1948, David Ben-Gurion, the head of the Jewish Agency, proclaimed the establishment of the State of Israel. U.S. President Harry S. Truman recognized the new nation on the same day.

Milestones: 1945–1952 - Office of the Historian

Support of Israel:

US aid to Israel

Israel–United States relations - Wikipedia

Direct U.S. Israeli financial aid

Americans Maintain Broad Support for Israel

Gallup Polls on American Sympathy Toward Israel and the Arabs/Palestinians


Forty-nine years ago this month, Israel’s survival was in serious doubt. A coalition of Arab nations, led by Egypt and Syria, had surprised the Israeli military with a coordinated, all-out assault on the Jewish nation as it observed the holiest day of its year, Yom Kippur. Armed with the latest in Soviet weaponry, Arab forces quickly destroyed Israeli warplanes and tanks in numbers so shockingly large that a complete conquest of Israel — previously unthinkable — suddenly seemed all too possible.

In desperate need of rearmament, Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir sent multiple appeals to the United States for military aid. Some of President Richard Nixon’s military advisors counseled against such a move, as they feared it would rapidly spiral into open warfare between America and the Soviet Union.

Nixon, after huddling with National Security Advisor Henry Kissinger, ordered a decisive response that few if any expected: a full-on emergency mobilization of the American military to immediately bring the Israeli military back to its pre-invasion strength.

Launched just six days after the first Egyptian and Syrian attacks, “Operation Nickel Grass” constituted a resupply campaign that surpassed anything ever seen before — or since — in American history. U.S. military transports filled to the brim with weapons and supplies immediately took off for Israeli airbases, shadowed by American fighters with orders to shoot down any plane that appeared even remotely hostile.

When the US actually did move ‘heaven and earth’ | The Hill

I am grateful to Fizz for bringing this article to my attention in the comments.

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    The big change in US military aid was during the Yom Kippur war. Cumulatively, since then, that's some $158 billion, more than what was given to Ukraine, albeit aid to the latter came on a much shorter time frame. Dec 7, 2023 at 19:43
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    thehill.com/opinion/international/… is worth a read. Dec 7, 2023 at 19:52
  • If you'd pay more attention to the title of the question - shift - and to your own graph, you'd see the aid $ went way up 65-75s: what caused it? Additionally, this answer doesn't account for Israel being told off by the US in 1956 - at that point, the US was a friend, but not an unconditional one. Agree with Roger, this is more the public relations version of things than it is the realpolitik one. Dec 7, 2023 at 23:56
  • @ItalianPhilosophers4Monica: The 1973 spike on the graph is probably the Yom Kippur War.
    – dan04
    Dec 8, 2023 at 4:41
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The shift happened sometime after 1956 - when the US told the UK, France and Israel to call off their operations.

When Israel refused to withdraw its troops from the Gaza Strip and Sharm el-Sheikh, Eisenhower declared, "We must not allow Europe to go flat on its back for the want of oil." He sought UN-backed efforts to impose economic sanctions on Israel until it fully withdrew from Egyptian territory. Senate Majority Leader Lyndon B. Johnson and minority leader William Knowland objected to American pressure on Israel.

The Yom-Kippur 1973 War initially started out badly for Israel and it is often thought that the US was presented with the following dilemma: help Israel win ASAP. Or, at least potentially, face it having to go nuclear. In any case, what is certain is that US dramatically, and very quickly, ramped up their weapon deliveries, during and immediately after that war.

Keep in mind as well that, as time progressed from 1948, the Arab nations inimical to Israel started being more and more backed by the Soviets: 1973 was fought fully against Russian gear, for example. So that support also needs to be considered in the wider US USSR containment strategy, something that would have much less of a consideration in say 1948 (no, my knowledge doesn't extend to parsing out 1948/1956/1967/1973 levels of "Sovietization" in the neighbors).

There is, yes, a generational component to this as well. Many older people remember Israel as the doughty underdog facing off against overwhelming odds. But that period ended sometime after the 80s and many younger people have no concept of Israel having been in existential danger and only see its refusal to negotiate in good faith with the Palestinians. (this is, in a way, even more pronounced in Europe, where Israel was held in good sympathy in the 70s and 80s.)

Another possible consideration is that, while I am hesitant to speculate overmuch about the theological reasons behind US Evangelical support for Israel, the influence of Evangelicals on US politics and policy also seemed considerably lower in decades past than it is nowadays (yes, even there is a generational thing going on as well).

Last, while the OPEC oil embargo in 1974 was a great success, it probably did not endear the Arab countries to the US public. And neither did the spate of terrorist incidents in the early 1970s.

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  • Not to deny the US aid during Yom Kippour, but my understanding is that the US was already the principal Israel's ally during the Six Day War in 1967, although the mutual suspicion or lack of established communication channels for military are sometimes cited among the causes of the USS Liberty incident. In 1973 saving Israel was already seen as strategically important, despite Nixon's personal misgivings about Jews. Dec 8, 2023 at 9:41
  • @RogerV. Correct, which is why I think Fizz's is the better answer, going back to 70. I wasn't aware of those details and just looked at 48... 56.. .67... 73 and answered on that basis. Dec 8, 2023 at 16:15
  • Given that the event in question took place between 1961-1963, anything prior to that can't be relevant to a post-Kennedy Administration shift, if one actually happened.
    – ohwilleke
    Apr 3 at 19:37
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Opinions might be a bit divided on a precise moment when the shift happened, but some (e.g. Michael Doran) place it in the 1970 exchange of letters/promises between Nixon and Meir, which put an end to Attrition War. Essentially Israel promised not to ever strike first again (like in '67) and in return the US promised they'll massively help Israel if necessary.

Before August 1970, there were still many in the American national-security system who sought to impose territorial concessions on the Jewish state. Never far from Golda Meir’s mind was the second commitment that Nixon made to Meir concerned arms. “I want again to assure you,” he wrote, “of my support for Israel’s existence and security and my intention to continue to provide Israel with the necessary assistance to assure that the balance of power will not be altered to the detriment of Israel.” Five decades later, we can see that those promises included, as Middle East analyst David Wurmser has argued, what is now a cornerstone of American foreign policy, namely, maintaining Israel’s qualitative military edge or QME. Recognizing that Israel, which relies on the mobilization of civilian reserves for its defense, must compensate for the greater size and larger population of its adversaries through superior weaponry, Congress has since enacted legislation requiring the United States to maintain Israel’s QME. The first documented use of the term dates from 1981, when Secretary of State Al Haig, answering a Congressional query in writing, identified the maintenance of Israel’s QME as a legacy of the Nixon administration. So important were these commitments to the Israelis that, when Nixon first made them, Rabin writes in his memoirs, some considered them “a latter-day Balfour Declaration.”

Three years later, in the first days of the Yom Kippur War, when Golda Meir descended into her darkest hour, these commitments guided her forward. When the problem of resupply weighed on her mind, she called her ambassador to the U.S. at three in the morning and told him to wake up Kissinger and Nixon to get things flowing. In her memoirs she explained her behavior. “I knew that President Nixon had promised to help us, and I knew from my past experience with him that he would not let us down,” she writes. “Let me, at this point, repeat something that I have said often before (usually to the extreme annoyance of many of my American friends),” she continues. “However history judges Richard Nixon—and it is probable that the verdict will be very harsh—it must also be put on the record forever that he did not break a single one of the promises he made to us.”

And basically it worked out out like that in '73:

Meir further testified that, in the hours before the war started, she explained to the ministers in her government that, “1973 is not 1967, and we won’t be forgiven this time.” Yes, some Israeli soldiers would certainly die due to the failure to launch a preemptive strike, but, Meir said, “I don’t know how many more others would die due to lack of equipment.”

By the time the prime minister got around to ordering a major mobilization, the Egyptian and Syrian attack was, in her understanding, just ten hours away (in fact it was only six). Even at that late hour, Dayan opposed her decision because he feared that Israel’s critics in Washington would blame Israel for starting the war by depicting the mobilization as the beginning of a surprise offensive.

Also

The restraint that Nixon demanded from Israel bore a superficial connection to the traditional attitudes of the State Department, which also sought to shackle Israel. However, these two calls for restraint emanated from very different strategic assessments. The traditional policy arose from the calculation that Israel was a liability to the United States. Close relations between Washington and Jerusalem, so the argument went, alienated the Arabs, driving them into the arms of the Soviet Union. To keep the Arabs in the Western camp, the United States must distance itself from Israel and, more specifically, demonstrate to them it was not building up Israel militarily. [...]

In a sharp break with traditional American thinking on the Arab-Israeli conflict, Nixon and Kissinger concluded that Israel’s military power was an asset to the United States. Watching Israel stand up not just to Egypt but also to the Soviet Union, they calculated that the Jewish state could help to shift the balance of power in the Middle East. It could even serve as a fulcrum for flipping Cairo from the Soviet to the American camp. To regain its lost territory and reopen the Suez Canal, Nixon and Kissinger reasoned, Egypt must be compelled to negotiate directly with Israel. The Soviets could help Cairo make war, but only the United States could help it make peace. Washington could deliver the Israelis and broker a lasting settlement—but only if Sadat, who by this time had replaced Nasser, would first agree to abandon Moscow. In the meantime, the United States would build up Israel militarily.

[...] “The president,” Kissinger said, “is very good on big strategic issues. He has no particular love for Jews. He does not give a damn for Israel in the abstract. It interests him only within the strategic context of the Middle East. He told me so. He has a good conception of the strategic significance of the Middle East.”

The War of Attrition had taught Nixon that an escalation of the Egyptian-Israeli conflict might prompt Brezhnev to increase the size of the Soviet contingent in Egypt. The U.S. would then have to choose between countering Soviet moves or backing down and handing Moscow a victory. Nixon sought to ensure that if this sort of confrontation emerged, he would be well positioned to manage it. An Egyptian-Israeli war would inevitably lead some influential voices in the State Department and the Pentagon to accuse Israel of dragging the United States into a war with the Soviet Union. Nixon and Kissinger demanded that the Israelis preempt such accusations by exercising restraint to ensure that Egypt would be blamed for any breach of the 1970 ceasefire.

So, essentially, the moment Israel became the clear victim in the eyes of the US ('73), it won the PR battle, according to that account. And that approach also (eventually) delivered something precious to the US strategists focused on global power: "flipping" Egypt from the Soviet camp, or at least pushing it to a much less clear alignment in that regard.

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Question: From what I remember reading during the Kennedy(I hope I got that right) administration the US was considering bombing or taking over Israelis suspected nuclear development sites.

Now many people in the US give Israel unconditional support in both parties.

What caused this dramatic shift?

It's really 3 different questions.

  1. Was there a dramatic shift in U.S. support for Israel

Yes

  1. When was that?

1971

  1. Why was that?

Nixon had Cold War considerations as he sought to end the Vietnam war and establish detente with the Soviet Union. So Nixon got involved with ME peace to "deconflict" US Soviet Relations.

1. Was their really a dramatic shift in US support for Israel?

Yes. During WWII through 1968 U.S. and Israel were not strong allies. US opinions on Israel were over shadowed by various controversial actions taken by the Israeli's against America and our Allies.

  • 1944, The Israeli Lehi Group (stern Gang) assassinated the British Minister of State in the Middle East, Lord Moyne.
  • 1946, When the Irgun lead by future Israel Prime Minster Menachem Begin, bombed the King David Hotel, a British military headquarters in Jerusalem, Killing 91, injuring another 46.
  • 1948, The assassination of the the United Nations Security Council special envoy to the Arab–Israeli conflict Count Folke Bernadotte
  • 1954, The fire bombing of the American Embassy in Cairo, Egypt; along with British-owned civilian targets: cinemas, libraries, and American educational centers. A false flag operation to influence President Eisenhower to hold Egypt responsible. Named the Lavon Affair after Pinhas Lavon the Israeli defense minister forced to resign when Israel's central role in the bombings came to light.
  • 1967, The Israeli Attack on the USS Liberty in international waters. Killing 34 U.S. service men, wounding 171.

2. When did U.S. support Shift?

1971, U.S. Military aid to Israel jumped 1820% from $30 million in 1970 to $546 million.

*(all time U.S. military aid high to Israel at that point $85 million in 1969)...

3. Why did U.S. support Shift?

Short Answer:

Prior to the Nixon Administration beginning in 1969 the U.S. was only peripherally involved in the Middle East troubles not actively supporting either side, rather trying to tamp down violence. President Johnson had first delivered American Phantom fighter jets to Israel in 1968 giving the United States more cachet with Israel's. Likewise Israel's primary existential threats, Egypt and Syria had become more closely aligned with the Soviets. The Nixon administration, in 1969 believed the the Arab Israeli conflict would harm U.S. interests impacting U.S relations with Arab nations and complicate US Soviet mediation efforts. So Nixon decided he would take an active role in trying to negotiate a middle east peace deal (69, 70). When those negotiations failed, Nixon settled for a peace based on a balance of power and began increasing / maintaining US Military aid to Israel at +1000% of 1970 levels until leaving office in 1976. Carter Administration then upped that aid resulting in the Camp David Accords in 1978. In Camp David Accords Peace Agreement both Egypt and Israel would receive billions annually in U.S. aid from that moment on. For Israel that would mean a sustained 500% military aid Increase from 1977 to 1978, which has grown to nearly $4 Billion in US aid for the last decade.

Longer Answer:

Milestones in the History of U.S. Foreign Relations

The 1973 Arab-Israeli War

President Richard Nixon came into office convinced that the Arab-Israeli standoff over the fate of the occupied territories could damage America’s standing in the Arab world and undermine prospects for U.S.-Soviet détente. In attempt to break the deadlock, he ordered Secretary of State William Rogers to negotiate with the Soviets on the parameters of a Middle East settlement, with the goal of reaching an agreement that each superpower could sell to its regional clients. By December 1969, however, the Soviet Union, Egypt, and Israel had all rejected the so-called “Rogers Plan,” which called for Israeli to withdraw to the 1949 armistice lines, with “insubstantial alterations,” in return for peace.

The failure of the Rogers Plan led Nixon to suspend efforts to reach a settlement with the Soviets and lent credence to National Security Advisor Henry Kissinger’s argument that the United States should not push Israel for concessions so long as Egypt, the leading Arab state, remained aligned with the Soviets. In the summer of 1970, Nixon broke with Kissinger and allowed Rogers to present a more limited initiative to halt the Israeli-Egyptian “War of Attrition” along the Suez Canal, in which the Soviets had become militarily involved. “Rogers II,” which called for Israel and Egypt to agree to a three month ceasefire and negotiations under the auspices of U.N. mediator Gunnar Jarring, was accepted by both parties, who stopped fighting on August 7. Yet Nixon’s appetite for diplomacy was spoiled by Egyptian and Soviet efforts to move anti-aircraft missiles closer to the Canal and Syrian intervention in Jordan’s civil war. Until February 1971, Kissinger’s arguments against prematurely rewarding Soviet clients again held sway.

In February 1971, however, Egyptian President Anwar Sadat presented the Nixon administration with a new opportunity for Arab-Israeli peacemaking. Sadat proposed that Egypt would reopen the Suez Canal if the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) pulled back from the Canal’s east bank and later agreed to a timetable for further withdrawals. He also indicated that he would renounce all claims of belligerency against Israel if the IDF withdrew to the international border. Rogers’ efforts to capitalize on Sadat’s statements by working toward an interim settlement, however, were opposed by the Israelis, and received little support from Kissinger and Nixon. Kissinger believed that Egyptian proposals for an interim settlement, along with a Soviet peace plan tabled that September, would be rejected by the Israelis, and did not want discord over the Middle East to undermine efforts at détente before the Moscow summit of May 1972. For Nixon, such reasoning was reinforced by a desire to avoid a crisis in U.S.-Israeli relations before the 1972 presidential elections.

In the wake of the Moscow summit, where the Americans and the Soviets deliberately avoided discussing the Middle East, Sadat made two more moves to get the Nixon administration to break the Arab-Israeli stalemate. In July 1972, he decided to expel Soviet military advisors from Egypt, and opened a backchannel to Kissinger through Hafiz Isma‘il, his national security advisor. In February 1973, Isma‘il met with Kissinger and informed him that Egypt would be willing to sign a separate peace agreement with Israel that could involve demilitarized zones on both sides of the international border and peacekeepers in sensitive locations like Sharm al-Shaykh. However, Egyptian-Israeli normalization would have to wait until Israel withdrew from all the territories it had conquered in 1967. The Israelis responded haltingly, and Nixon and Kissinger made little effort to change their minds. Despite Sadat’s public displays of frustration, as well as warnings from Jordan’s King Hussein and Soviet Secretary-General Leonid Brezhnev, Nixon and Kissinger believed that given the military balance, Egypt and Syria would not attack Israel, a view supported by much of the U.S. intelligence community. Until the fall of 1973, the President and Kissinger held that any American diplomatic initiative would have to wait until after Israel’s elections that October.

From Comments:

From Italian Philosophers 4 Monica:

I am not asking a question. I am pointing out that Liberty isn't like Bernadotte. We know Bernadotte was intentional. We ... don't know about Liberty. As written, in a long list of very questionable behavior that is well known about and was intentional, it looks as if Liberty was also intentional. Might have been/might not. Mentioning that it may/may not have been a mistake doesn't cost anything. Right now, a naive user, reading your answer, would think: "oh, wow, they attacked and killed all those sailors and no one minded???" –

How do you pull Three attack boats less than a hundred yards range to machine gun the life rafts and US sailors of A ship sporting two American Flags: 5x8 feet, the other 8x13 feet for two hours, in fair weather with excellent visibility and claim you misidentified the ship? A ship clearly marked as a US Navy ship on it's hull? Breaking off the attack only after 8 fighters from the USS America were dispatch to engage the Israelis? In order to lend credence to the ship being mis-identified you would need to believe the Israeli IDF Pilots and Seamen were blind, and the radio operators were deaf, except when the USS America dispatch it's response. They heard that!

Let's hear what the contemporary experts believed.

Quotes by Contemporary Experts on the USS Liberty

Dean Rusk, then-Secretary of State:

“...an act of military recklessness reflecting wanton disregard for human life.” —10 June 1967 diplomatic note to the Israeli Ambassador.

"But I was never satisfied with the Israeli explanation. Their sustained attack to disable and sink Liberty precluded an assault by accident or soem trigger-happy local commander. Through diplomatic channels we refused to accept their explanations. I didn't believe them then, and I don't believe them to this day. The attack was outrageous." —Rusk, As I Saw It, W.W.Norton, 1990. p 388

Clark M. Clifford, then-Presidential Advisor and Chairman of the President's Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board:

"I do not know to this day at what level the attack on the Liberty was authorized and I think it is unlikely that the full truth will ever come out. Having been for so long a staunch supporter of Israel, I was particularly troubled by this incident; I could not bring myself to believe that such an action could have been authorized by Levi Eshkol. Yet somewhere inside the Israeli government, somewhere along the chain of command, something had gone terribly wrong--and then had been covered up. I hever felt the Israelis made adequate restitution or explanation for their actions..." —Counsel to the President

"That the Liberty could have been mistaken for the Egyptian supply ship El Quseir is unbelievable. El Quseir has one-fourth the displacement of the Liberty, roughly half the beam, is 180 feet shorter, and is very differently configured. The Liberty's unusual antenna array and hull markings should have been visible to low-flying aircraft and torpedo boats. In the heat of battle the Liberty was able to identify one of the attacking torpedo boats as Israeli and to ascertain its hull number. In the same circumstances, trained Israeli naval personnel should have been able easily to see and identify the larger hull markings on the Liberty." —memorandum to the President, 18 July 1967

Paul C. Warnke, then-General Legal Counsel of the Department of Defense:

"I found it hard to believe that it was, in fact, an honest mistake on the part of the Israeli air force units. I still find it impossible to believe that it was. I suspect that in the heat of battle they figured that the presence of this American ship was inimical to their interests, and that somebody without authorization attacked it."

George Ball, under secretary of state at the time:

"American leaders did not have the courage to punish Israel for the blatant murder of its citizens. . . . The Liberty's presence and function were well known to Israel's leaders. ...Israel's leaders concluded that nothing they might do would offend the Americans to the point of reprisal. If American leaders did not have the courage to punish Israel for the blatant murder of American citizens, it seemed clear that their American friends would let them get away with almost anything." —writing in The Passionate Attachment: America's Involvement with Israel, pages 57-58.

Dwight Porter, former US Ambassador to Lebanon:

“‘It's an American ship!’ the pilot of an Israeli Mirage fighter-bomber radioed Tel Aviv as he sighted the USS Liberty on June 8, 1967. Israeli headquarters ordered the pilot to attack the American ship.” —former US Ambassador to Lebanon Dwight Porter describing transcripts of communications he saw, reported in syndicated column "Remembering the Liberty" by Rowland Evans and Robert Novak, November 6, 1991.

David G. Nes, the deputy head of the American mission in Cairo at the time:

“I don't think that there's any doubt that it was deliberate.... [It is] one of the great cover-ups of our military history.”

George Christian, Press Secretary to President Lyndon Johnson:

"No one in the White House believed that the attack was an accident." —in letter to James Ennes, 1978.

John Stenbit, Assistant Secretary of Defense for C3I:

"The Israelis told us 24 hours before that ...if we didn't move it, they would sink it. Unfortunately, the ship was not moved, and by the time the message arrived the ship was taking on water." —in an address to the AFEI/NDAI Conference for Net Centric Operations, Wednesday, April 16, 2003

Raymond Tate, Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Navy and Deputy Director, NSA:

". . . the commander of the Sixth Fleet was informed by the Washington Intelligence Apparatus that it had evidence that the Liberty was going to be attacked and to provide protection for it. That message was never really acted upon, and the ship was dead in the water when it was hit. So the end result was no accident." —Raymond Tate, Deputy Assistant SecNav and Deputy Director, NSA, Worldwide C3I and Telecommunications (1980, pp. 25-47)

Members of Congress

Craig Hosmer, then-U.S. Representative:

"I can only conclude that the coordinated attack by aircraft and motor torpedo boats on the U.S.S. Liberty 15 1/2 miles north of Sinai on June 8 which killed 34 officers and men of the Navy and wounded another 175 was deliberate.

"The fact that the U.S.S. Liberty was a Victory hull vessel, hundreds of which were produced and used by the U.S. Navy during World War II and since, rules out the possibility of mistaken identity. Every ship recognition book in the world has, for years, identified the characteristic Victory hull and supersturcture of the U.S.S. Liberty as U.S. Navy property...

"Whatever the reason for the attack, it was an act of high piracy. Those responsible should be court-martialed on charges of murder, amongst other counts. The Israel Government should pay full reparations to the United States and indemnities to the families of the Americans killed." —Craig Hosmer, then-U.S. Representative, on the floor of the House of Representatives, 29 June 1967

Thomas G. Abernathy, then-U.S. Representative:

"The Liberty ship incident - and indeed it was more than an incident - has been treated entirely too lightly by this Government. To say the lease, too little has been said about it. This useless, unnecessary and inexcusable attack took the lives of 34 American boys, wounded 175 others, and left many others in a state of horrified shock, to say nothing of what it did to a flag-flying vessel of the U.S. Navy. How could this be treated so lightly in this the greatest Capitol in all the world?

"I have heard Members of this House, and many, many others, say that if this had been done by others, the leaders of our Government would have moved in with sternness and appropriate action demands or even retaliatory action.

"These men at all times are entitled to the strong backing of every citizen of this land or every race and every creed. They are entitled to and should have the strong arm, as well as the strong voice of their Government and their people behind them. And who has spoken out in their behalf from this land since some of their number were so suddenly shot down and others so severely wounded on the Liberty ship?

"What complaint have we registered? What has Washington said? To tell you the truth, this great Capitol as well as this great Government - if it can still be called great - was and is as quiet as a tomb regarding this event?" —Thomas G. Abernathy, then-U.S. Representative, on the floor of the House of Representatives, 29 June 1967

Adlai Stevenson III, former United States Senator:

"Those sailors who were wounded, who were eyewitnesses, have not been heard from by the American public. . . [Their story] leaves no doubt but what this was a premeditated, carefully reconnoitered attack by Israeli aircraft against our ship." —US Senator Adlai Stevenson III in interview with Wm. J. Small, UPI, for publication September 28, 1980

James Abourezk, former United States Senator

"The shame of the U.S.S. Liberty incident is that our sailors were treated as though they were enemies, rather than the patriots and heroes that they were. There is no other incident--beyond Israeli attack on the U.S.S. Liberty--that shows the power of the Israeli Lobby by being able to silence successive American governments. Allowing the lies told by the Israelis and their minions in the U.S. is disheartening to all of us who are proud of our servicemen." —James Abourezk, United States Senate, 1973-79 Paul Findley, former U.S. Congressman:

"Certain facts are clear. The attack was no accident. The Liberty was assaulted in broad daylight by Israeli forces who knew the ship's identity. ...The President of the United States led a cover-up so thorough that years after he left office, the episode was still largely unknown to the public -- and the men who suffered and died have gone largely unhonored." —Paul Findley, They Dare to Speak Out, Lawrence Hill & Co., 1985, p166 Military Officials

Admiral Thomas H. Moorer, US Navy (Ret.):

“The ship was clearly identified, not only by its unique configuration but by a very large U.S. flag that was flown at the time. The weather was calm and the visibility was excellent. During this unprovoked attack 34 U.S. Navy men were killed and 171 wounded. Nevertheless, to this day the American public does not know why the attack took place and who was involved overall. “In my opinion, the United States government and the Israeli government must share responsibility for this cover-up. I cannot accept the claim by the Israelis that this was a case of mistaken identity. I have flown for years in both peace and war on surveillance flights over the ocean, and my opinion is supported by a full career of locating and identifying ships at sea. Based on the way this tragedy was handled both in the United States and in Israel, one must conclude that there is much information that has not been made available to the public. “The U.S. Fleet, positioned nearby, received a distress call from the USS Liberty, and one carrier dispatched a squadron to go to the defense of the disabled ship. Before the aircraft reached the Liberty, they received orders from Washington directing their return to their ship. Who issued those orders? So far, no one knows. In the United States all information available to the U.S. government indicating those who participated in controlling this operation from Washington, together with the exact text of orders transmitted to the Mediterranean Fleet, has never been made public.” —Thomas H. Moorer, Admiral, US Navy (Ret.), Forword to Assault on the Liberty

Captain Ward Boston, JAGC, US Navy (Ret.):

"Retired Navy legal counsel Capt. Ward Boston says he and the court's president, the late Rear Adm. Isaac "Ike" Kidd, always believed Israeli forces knowingly attacked the Liberty. 'I feel the Israelis knew what they were doing. They knew they were shooting at a U.S. Navy ship,' said Boston, who lives in Coronado, Calif. 'That's the bottom line. I don't care how they tried to get out of it.'" —Text and quotes from the Navy Times, 26 June 2002

"Gentlemen: The JAG Manual provides that the responsibility of Counsel for the Court is to exploit all practicable sources of information and to bring out all facts in an impartial manner without regard to the favorable or unfavorable effect on persons concerned.

"I believe that the record of proceedings of this Court of Inquiry will reflect that all facts and information which are available concerning the unprovoked attack on USS Liberty on 8 June 1967, have been brought to your attention.

"The only remaining responsibility which I have, while this Court is in session is to give summation of the evidence introduced observing the caveat that the summation must be an impartial argument and not amount to partisan advocacy.

"Even though I intend to temper my remarks within the peripheral limits of such a guide line, I must confess however, that after living intimately with the facts of this case for the past week, I have become more and more appalled that such a tragedy should have over occurred. Therefore, I shall attempt to synopsize those salient facts which have influenced my judgment in this summation.

"You have heard testimony and viewed incontrovertible documentary evidence which established the following factual setting:

"USS Liberty, pictured, defined and described in Janes Fighting Ships as an unarmed U.S. Navy technical research ship, deployed to the Mediterranean pursuant to official orders and, on 8 June 1967, was on station in accordance with such orders. However, the Commanding Officer, USS Liberty, had not been appraised that Liberty's orders had been modified, apparently because of the Middle East War so, instead of the previously assigned area of operation being in international waters contiguous to the coast of the United Arab Republic, the modification provided for removal to an area of operation 100 miles from the coast. The evidence clearly reflects that any dereliction for USS Liberty not having knowledge of the modification in orders is not attributable to Liberty. Nor is there any evidence of probative value establishing culpability in non-receipt." —Ward Boston, Captain, JAGC, US Navy (Ret.), in the Counsel for the Court's Summary of Evidence of the U.S. Navy Court of Inquiry into the attack on USS Liberty

Commander Ernest Castle, U.S. Naval Attaché at American Embassy in Tel-Aviv:

". . . Info on MTB attack received by embassy officer from IDF naval officer who said he was aboard MTB. . . . They eagerly raced into action without waiting to identify our ship." —Commander Ernest Castle, U.S. Naval Attaché at American Embassay in Tel-Aviv in 15 June 1967 message to Rear Admiral Kidd

Commander William McGonagle, Captain, USS Liberty:

After more than two hours of unremitting assault, the Israelis finally halted their attack. One of the torpedo boats approached the Liberty. This same torpedo boat crew had been circling the ship, machine-gunning anyone who stuck his head above decks, as well as the lifeboats the crew had put over the side.

What had changed? The Israeli government knew that US aircraft carriers had just launched aircraft to come to Liberty's aid and the attack was quickly called off. The Israeli government called the US Embassy and said that they had made a "mistake."

A torpedo boat officer asked in English over a bullhorn: "Do you need any help?"

The wounded commander of the Liberty, Captain William McGonagle, instructed the quartermaster to respond emphatically: "Fuck you." Intelligence Community Officials

Richard Helms, then-Director of Central Intelligence (CIA Director):

"Israeli authorities subsequently apologized for the incident, but few in Washington could believe that the ship had not been identified as an American naval vessel. Later, an interim intelligence memorandum concluded the attack was a mistake and not made in malice against the U.S. . . .

I had no role in the board of inquiry that followed, or the board's finding that there could be no doubt that the Israelis knew exactly what they were doing in attacking the Liberty. I have yet to understand why it was felt necessary to attack this ship or who ordered the attack." —Richard Helms, then-Director of Central Intelligence (CIA Director), A Look Over My Shoulder

Adm. Rufus Taylor, then-Deputy Director of Central Intelligence (CIA Deputy Director)

"To me, the picture thus far presents the distinct possibility that the Israelis knew that the Liberty might be their target and attacked anyway, either through confusion in Command and Control or through deliberate disregard of instructions on the part of subordinates."

Lieutenant General William E. Odom, former director, National Security Agency:

On the strength of intercept transcripts of pilots' conversations during the attack, the question of the attack's deliberateness "just wasn't a disputed issue" within the agency.

Lieuten**ant General William E. Odom, former director, National Security Agency, interview with David Walsh on March 3, 2003, reported in Naval Institute Proceedings, June, 2003

Major General John Morrison, US Air Force, Deputy Chief NSA Operations during the attack and later Chief of NSA Operations:

"....did not buy the Israeli ‘mistake’ explanations either. Nobody believes that explanation." When informed by author Bamford of gruesome war crime (killing of large numbers of POWs) at nearby El Arish, Morrison saw the connection. "That would be enough," he said. "They wouldn't want us in on that. You've got the motive. What a hell of a thing to do." —reported in Body of Secrets by James Bamford, p233.

Admiral Bobby Ray Inman, USN, Director National Security Agency 1977-1981:

Inman said he "flatly rejected" the Cristol thesis that the attack was an accident. "It is just exceedingly difficult to believe that [USS Liberty] was not correctly identified" based on his talks with NSA seniors at the time having direct knowledge of intercepted communications. No NSA official could be found who dissented from the "deliberate" conclusion. —reported in Proceedings, June, 2003

Oliver Kirby, former deputy director for operations/production, National Security Agency:

"I can tell you for an absolute certainty (from intercepted communications) that they knew they were attacking an American ship."

Oliver Kirby, former deputy director for operations/production, National Security Agency. Kirby participated in NSA's investigation of the attack and reviewed translations of intercepted communications between pilots and their headquarters which he reports show conclusively that they knew their target was an American ship. Kirby is considered the "Godfather" of the USS Liberty and USS Pueblo intercept programs. (Telephone interviews with James Ennes and David Walsh for Friendless Fire, Proceedings, June 2003)

Louis W. Tordella, former NSA Deputy Director

"A nice whitewash for a group of ignorant, stupid and inept [expletive deleted]." —Handwritten note of August 26, 1967, by NSA Deputy Director Louis W. Tordella reacting to the Israeli court decision exonerating Israelis of all blame for the Liberty attack. Intelligence Community Officials

Yitzhak Rabin, IDF Chief of Staff in 1967 and former Prime Minister of Israel:

"A ship had been sighted opposite El Arish. Following standing orders to attack any unidentified vessel near the shore (after appropriate attempts had been made to ascertain its identity), our air force and navy zeroed in on the vessel and damaged it. But they still could not tell whose ship it was.... Four of our planes flew over it at a low altitude in an attempt to identify the ship, but they were unable to make out any markings and therefore concluded it must be Egyptian...."

Abba Eban, Israeli UN Ambassador in 1967:

"American leaders--including Secretary of State Rusk--found it difficult to assume that the attack had been inadvertent. They occupied their minds with various scenarios of motivation. All of them were false. Israel had no interest whatever in preventing the United States from knowing what was going on. There was nothing apologetic about our military decisions ....I categorically assert that the LIBERTY tragedy was not deliberate. I attended all the intimate consultations of the defense and diplomatic leaders in those forty-eight hours, and it is certain that airmen and soldiers would not have reported falsely to the prime minister, the newly appointed defense minister and to the chief of staff on a matter as grave as the sinking [sic] of an American vessel by Israeli forces. "

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  • Re "giving the United States more cache with Israel's": Do you mean "giving the United States more cachet with Israel's"? Dec 8, 2023 at 23:28
  • @PeterMortensen Yes Thank you for the correction.
    – JMS
    Dec 8, 2023 at 23:56
  • Pretty good. One correction I would make is the rather unclear nature of the Liberty incident - was it a mistake? intentional? As written "1967, The Israeli Attack on the USS Liberty in international waters." it is not made clear that the nature of the incident in question is hopelessly uncertain - with allegations of coverup by US survivors but also Israeli contrition. What is certain is that we don't know whether or not Israel wanted to shoot up a US ship. That's unclear in this list - the other controversial Israeli actions were intentional. Dec 9, 2023 at 3:35
  • This might serve as a primer, though I don't remember if it is a neutral enough one or not. youtube.com/watch?v=Wl_f73lWf_8 Dec 9, 2023 at 3:37
  • 1
    Lieutenant General William E. Odom, former director, National Security Agency: On the strength of intercept transcripts of pilots' conversations during the attack, the question of the attack's deliberateness "just wasn't a disputed issue" within the agency. Lieutenant General William E. Odom, former director, National Security Agency, interview with David Walsh on March 3, 2003, reported in Naval Institute Proceedings, June, 2003
    – JMS
    Dec 9, 2023 at 4:07
1

In 1967 Israel won the Six Day War and thus proved that it was going to survive for some time. It then made more sense for the US to have it as an ally in the ME, to further the US influence, rather than letting somebody else do so (previously Israel was getting help from the UK and France, but the USSR was also interested - particularly given that the Zionist movement was heavily socialist (see Labor Zionism.)

Update
Rashid Khalidi in The Iron Cage points out that re-orientation of the Zionist policy towards the US had began already in late 1930s:

More to the point, the White Paper, dead letter though it was in large measure because of the outbreak of World War II, convinced farsighted Zionist leaders like David Ben-Gurion, who would be- come the first prime minister of Israel, that the Zionist movement was obliged to acquire a new great-power sponsor. With the Zionist movement’s Biltmore Program (pointedly enunciated in New York in 1942) calling for a Jewish Commonwealth in Palestine, Ben- Gurion began the process of setting more explicit and more ambitious goals and reorienting the movement toward the United States, which he correctly identified as the great power of the future. Al- though the landing of American troops in Iran and North Africa only took place the following year, it was already clear to him that Britain was a declining power and the United States a rising one, in the Middle East and in the world as a whole. Very few Middle Eastern, or for that matter world, leaders were as perspicacious in this regard as was Ben-Gurion.

He also comments on the importance of Israel to both the US and the USSR, and their reluctance to support the Palestinians:

By contrast with British policymakers, who had come to resent the Zionists bitterly for turning against them (a sentiment that was more than reciprocated), American and Soviet planners saw the nascent Jewish state as a possible asset in their eƒorts to diminish the overwhelming influence of Great Britain in the Middle East. Both appreciated the vital strategic importance of the region, both were in search of local allies and clients, and both saw Britain as an obstacle to the enhancement of their own influence. Although we naturally tend to see the United States and the Soviet Union as the primary powers in the Middle East (as elsewhere) in the wake of World War II, in fact this only became true in the mid- to late 1950s. Their ascendancy, and the eclipse of both of the formerly dominant great powers in the region, Britain and France, was only fully brought home during the Suez crisis of 1956, when the latter, acting in collusion with Israel, were humiliated by the United States and in collusion with Israel, were humiliated by the United States and the Soviet Union, which turned back their tripartite invasion of Egypt.

In the meantime, what this meant for the Palestinians was that no great power was on their side. The United States and Soviet Union were overtly ranged against them, both voting for partition and for the establishment of a Jewish state in 1947, and immediately recognizing Israel on May 15, 1948. The reasons were simple: both looked with disfavor on the Palestinians because of the mufti’s years in Berlin, and neither had developed any links with them. The Palestinians, meanwhile, had even less of a presence in, or under- standing of, the Soviet Union or the United States than they had had with regard to Britain. By contrast, the Zionist movement had made major inroads in the United States, developing a strong position within the American Jewish community, which became broadly supportive in the wake of the Holocaust, and building on relations with Congress and with American presidents that went back to the close links between American Zionist leader Louis Bran- deis and President Wilson. Even with the Soviet Union, which was generally unfriendly to Zionism, during and after World War II the Zionist movement had managed to build a relationship that served them in good stead in 1948 when a major Czech arms deal helped the young Israeli state.

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    That doesn't really explain the difference in the publics response. There's quite a gap between bombing and giving unconditional support to. Dec 7, 2023 at 19:15
  • @FourierFlux you misrepresent Kennedy attitudes - he was actually already supportive of Israel, contrary to the previous administrations. I suggest that you add a reference regarding the bombing bit - as of now it lacks the context. Dec 7, 2023 at 19:24

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