Sunday, 9 August 2015

The Liberty Incident Revealed: The Definitive Account of the 1967 Israeli Attack on the U.S. Navy Spy Ship - A Jay Cristol

This review has been published in the Canadian Naval Review.
Title: The Liberty Incident Revealed: The Definitive Account of the 1967 Israeli Attack on the U.S. Navy Spy Ship
Author: A Jay Cristol
ISBN: 978-1-61251-340-9
Publisher: Naval Institute Press
Pages: 392
Photographs/maps: 14 b/w//3 

On June 8, 1967, during the height of the Arab-Israeli ‘6 Day War’, units of the Israeli Air Force and Navy attacked the US intelligence gathering vessel “Liberty”, torpedoing and strafing said ship multiple times; the result was significant damage to the ship, 34 dead and 171 wounded. Given that the ship was in international waters (12-14 NM off of the Sinai Peninsula), the attack deliberate and the fact that she was openly identifying itself as an American ship, significant controversy resulted that has continued to play itself out over the succeeding years regarding the reasoning behind Israel’s actions. 

This most recent edition of Cristol’s book expands upon his original copy by incorporating additional material that has been declassified in the intervening years (his original book was published in 2002). The author makes it clear at the outset of his position that the attack was made in honest error by the Israeli’s as a result of a series of internal communication and Command and Control failures. These errors were compounded by concurrent failures within the US naval communications system. The tragedy was made all the more poignant by the fact that the Liberty itself was exactly where she had been ordered to be and undertaking activities that she had been directed to perform. 

Cristol has included verbatim texts from the flight recorders between Israeli Air Controllers and their pilots as well as the same for Israeli naval assets as they track onto target. It is very clear that there was significant confusion amongst Israeli Commanders regarding the nationality of the ship; potential identification went from Egyptian to Soviet to American. Working back from this the author describes in detail not only the operational deficiencies within the US and Israeli Command systems but also the subjective factors that influenced decision making. The Israeli Navy was the poor stepchild of the Israeli military with the Army and Airforce consistently receiving the lion’s share of funding and public recognition. Further exacerbating this, inter-service relations between the airforce and navy were very poor; thus Naval Commanders were actively looking for an opportunity to grab some of the glory from the war before it was too late. 

Cristol’s investigation of this aspect of the incident is fascinating as it reinforces the impact of the ‘human factor’ and the ‘fog of war’ on the derailment of the effective execution of operations. Further, the potential escalation as a result of this misunderstanding threatened to spin into a global conflagration between the US and Soviet Union as the US suspected that it was a Soviet submarine that had attacked the Liberty. 

The book is very well written with a logical and well founded thesis. The author acknowledges the arguments of those who feel that the attack was in fact deliberate on the part of the Israeli’s and refutes their points through studied and well-structured argument. His inclusion of copies of the official reports as well as the transcripts of the communication logs between the Naval and Air assets of the Israeli forces and their command centre provides excellent insight for the reader into the confusion and dysfunction existing within both the US and Israeli militaries. The production value of the book is very good and it is an excellent read relating to a side incident often overlooked in the histories of the 6 Day War.

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