Refuting the Israeli Arguments
"Liberty resembles the Egyptian supply ship El Quseir."
As partial justification for the attack, the Israeli government claimed that USS Liberty had been mistaken for the Egyptian freighter, El Quseir. They also claimed that such confusion is understandable, given the similarities between the two ships. In the alternative, they argue, USS Liberty could also have been mistaken for an Egyptian Z class destroyer.
The Israelis argue that USS Liberty and El Quseir are easily confused for the following reasons:
"We may note the following similarities between the two vessels:
A. Similar deck line
B. The bridge structure is in mid ship
C. A single smokestack in in mid ship
D. The "Liberty's" antennae on the aft and fore decks resemble "El Quseir's" masts.
E. The antennae on "Liberty's" fore deck resemble a gun"IDF History Report, p. 24
Immediately below are photos which have been adjusted to show the relative sizes of USS Liberty, an Egyptian "Z" class destroyer, and El Quseir. In these photos, the ship sizes are shown in actual proportion to one another. That is, if you were to print this page, cut out the ships and lay the cutouts down next to one another, the proportions would be accurate.
To illustrate this even further, the diagram immediately below shows accurately proportioned representations of USS Liberty and El Quseir, side by side.
Obviously, any similarities between USS Liberty and El Quseir are superficial at best. Immediately below is a photo of a ship that is closer to El Quseir's size and appearance. Presumably, the IDF would have attacked this ship as well, had it been there.
The markings on the side of the ship may be ignored, just as the IDF ignored Liberty's hull markings, for the reason that their use "might be an Egyptian ruse."
Clark Clifford, Special Assistant to the President, reached the following conclusion in his memorandum to President Johnson:
"c. 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."
A similar opinion was offered by former Chief of Naval Operations and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Thomas H. Moorer:
"Despite claims by Israeli intelligence that they confused the Liberty with a small Egyptian transport, the Liberty was conspicuously different from any vessel in the Egyptian navy. It was the most sophisticated intelligence ship in the world in 1967. With its massive radio antennae, including a large satellite dish, it looked like a large lobster and was one of the most easily identifiable ships afloat."Moorer in the Houston Chronicle, 11 January 2004
LIBERTY, she more closely resembles the majority of older tramp steamers operating in ocean shipping. EL QUSEIR is less than half the size and lacks the elaborate antenna array and distinctive hull markings of LIBERTY. The location of the superstructure island, a primary recognition feature of merchant type ships, is widely different. By this criteria as a justification, for attack, any ship resembling EL QUSEIR was in jeopardy.
It should be obvious to any impartial observer that the claim that the torpedo boat commander confused USS Liberty with El Quseir is nothing more than a fabricated, post hoc attempt to explain away the reason for the attack.
Interestingly, even if the target ship had been El Quseir, the Israeli forces would not have had any legal right to attack it without having first ordered it to heave to.