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The USS Liberty Incident: Secret Report Shows Israelis Shocked By Attack On Liberty

(June 8, 1967)

This declassified excerpt from a report on the 1967 war discusses the Israeli attack on the U.S.S. Liberty. The report does not mysteriously describes the Liberty as “an auxiliary ship” that was near the Egyptian coastline. The U.S. Ambassador in Tel Aviv also reported that the Israelis were shocked by what all described as an error.

At 8:30 (EDT) on the morning of June 8, the Department of State was informed of a torpedo attack on the U.S.S. Liberty, “an auxiliary ship,” about 14 nautical miles north of the Egyptian coastline. Soon after the Department cabled the following report to the American Embassy in Moscow: The United States had instructed the carrier Saratoga, which was with the Sixth Fleet in the Mediterranean, to despatch eight aircraft to the scene of the damaged ship to investigate and to offer whatever protection might be necessary. The Department had then informed the Soviet Charge, Yuri N. Tcherniakov, at 10:15 a.m. of the despatch of the American planes to the scene. At 11:00 a.m. (EDT), the Israelis had advised that they were responsible for hitting the Liberty through error and had apologized. The Department had telephone this information to the Soviet Charge at 11:01, and the U.S. planes had been called back to the carrier at 11:25 a.m.1

Alarmed by this event, Ambassador Barbour reported from Tel Aviv that the Israelis were obviously shocked by the error. He urged that the United States avoid publicity if possible because, if the Liberty was a U.S. flag vessel, “its proximity to [the] scene (of the] conflict could feed Arab suspicions of U.S.-Israeli collusion.”2

At 12:45 p.m., Deputy Under Secretary Kohler telephoned Tcherniakov again and left a -message informing halm that what he had told Tcherniakov earlier had been sent too Moscow via the “Hot Line.” Kohler also said that the Department had received a reply from Chairman Kosygin acknowledging the receipt of the telegram and informing the United States that Russia had immediately passed the information to President Nasser.3

1To Moscow, tel. 209218, June 8, 1967, confidential. Memorandum by Low (G) of conversation between Kohler: (G) and Tcherniakov, June 8,.1967, secret.

2From Tel Aviv, tel. 4014, June 8, 1967, secret/exdis.

3Memorandum by Low (G) of conversation between Kohler (G) and a Counselor of the Soviet Embassy (not identified), June 8, 1967, secret.

From Cairo, Ambassador Nolte sent a sharply worded telegram stating “we had better get our story on [the] torpedoing of [the] U.S.S. Liberty out fast, and it had better be good.”1

Later in the afternoon of June 8, Deputy Under Secretary Kohler again telephoned the Soviet Embassy that he wanted to inform the Soviet Government that the press was expected to question Hr. Christian, Press Secretary to the President, closely at his 4:00 p.m. briefing concerning whether the “Hot Line” had been used during. the crisis, especially since de Gaulle had announced his use of it. Kohler said that Christian would say that the President had had exchanges with Chairman Kosygin in many ways, using various channels, including the “Hot Line.” Christian, Kohler said, would point out that the “Hot Line” was a telegraphic rather than a voice communication.2

On the same day, Israeli Ambassador Harman wrote a letter of apology and condolences to Secretary Rusk, while Foreign Minister Eban telegraphed the Israeli Government's regret and sent “deep and respectful” condolences to the families of the dead and injured.3

1From Cairo, tel. 8705, June 8, 1967, secret/exdis.

2Memorandum by Low (G) of conversation between Kohler (G) and Vorontsov, June 8, 1967, secret.

3Letter from Harman to Rusk, June 8, 1967; telegram from Eban to Rusk, June 8, 1967. On June 10, the Israeli Embassy sent a note to Rusk renewing Israel's expression of regret and offering compensation (letter from Harman to Rusk, June 10, 1967).

Sources: “United States Policy and Diplmacy in the Middle East Crisis, May 15-June 10, 1967,” declassified secret document, Lyndon Johnson Presidential Library, pp. 143-144.