This past week, I watched the BBC documentary, "USS Liberty - Dead in the Water", on Documentary Heaven. The USS Liberty, a US Naval warship, was attacked and put out of commission by the Israeli Air Force and Navy during the Six Day War while in international waters. The documentary interviewed many surviving crew members (34 crew members died during the attack) and by the end, settled on the fact that the Israeli operation was intentional and was most likely, a part of Operation Cyanide, a Israeli-US plan to blame the Egyptians for the attack (I guess similar to the Lavon Affair) and get the US involved in the war. While there are a number of theories as to why the ship was attacked (They are fairly well detailed in this Wikipedia link), this was the first time I heard of this theory. Here are my thoughts:
1) I don't believe this attack was unintentional, which is the shared outlook of the US and Israel. I don't believe Jim Ennes, or other surviving crew members, would all repeat the same testimony essentially saying Israel knew the ship was American. The 'This is war' explanation may work for the the first strike, but why the repeated aerial and naval strikes? It doesn't really add up.
2) I don't believe Operation Cyanide makes sense on a few counts:
- Israel had already shown in '56 that their armed forces were capable of dealing with the Egyptian armed forces. While there was great uncertainty before '67, why would the US not have taken other 'steps' (i.e. increased military backing) to Israel before this drastic step?
- The idea that Israel, as per the documentary, had planned the operation for a couple of months before the war raises some question marks in my mind too. Was the US really that eager to get rid of Nasser? Were they that eager for a full out encounter with Nasser's main backers, the USSR? If they were 'anti-Nasser,' why was their approach in the Middle East often neutral (as it was during the Six Day War)?
- The interview with Rafi Eitan about the operation was also odd. Eitan acts as if he knows something, but then (obviously) refuses to reveal anything. Going by how 'big' this operation would have been, I don't understand how Eitan would have known about it. He wasn't, at least as far as I know, that senior that he'd been privy to those talks.
3) I do believe the attack was intentional. The world's most advanced spy ship was close enough to the Sinai coastline that there is no way they weren't spying - be it on the Israelis or the Egyptians. They were in a war zone and spying ... I still don't think however that there was a need for more assaults on the ship after the first one.