There have been a number of arguments offered as to each aspect of the Israeli attack on USS Liberty. By clicking on the links below, you can read the arguments presented by each side.
United States Arguments
USS Liberty was a neutral ship, lawfully sailing on the high seas when she was suddenly and deliberately attacked by Israeli naval and air forces. USS Liberty offered no provocation or otherwise invited this illegal attack.
In addition to attempting to sink USS Liberty, Israeli naval forces machine gunned rescue and damage control personnel on board USS Liberty, as well as machine gunned the life rafts deployed by the crew.
Israeli forces withdrew only when they learned that U.S. fighter aircraft were on their way to rescue USS Liberty. At that point, the Israeli Foreign Ministry contacted the United States Embassy to notify them that Israeli forces had mistakenly attacked a U.S. Navy ship.
The only formal “arguments” offered by Israel were those presented by the Foreign Ministry to the U.S. Embassy the day after the attack. The entire statement consisted of the following:
1. Ship [USS Liberty] was sighted and recognized as a naval ship, 13 miles from the coast.
2. Presence in a fighting area is against international custom.
3. The area is not a common passage for ships.
4. Egypt had declared the area closed to neutrals.
5. Liberty resembles the Egyptian supply ship El Quseir.
6. Ship [USS Liberty] was not flying flag when sighted. She moved at ‘high speed’ westward toward enemy coast.
7. IDF navy had earlier reports of bombardment of El-Arish from sea.”
After making this effort to place the blame for the attack on the United States and USS Liberty, the Israelis next sought to explain the reasonableness of their actions.
They explained that they had sent three torpedo boats to find the suspected Egyptian destroyer that had been shelling the town of El Arish from the sea. The torpedo boats observed a high speed target on their radar and calculated the target’s speed, first at 30 knots and then three minutes later at 28 knots.
The Israeli rules of engagement permitted their forces to presume that any ship moving at a speed in excess of twenty knots was hostile and that no further identification would be required.
When the torpedo boats reported that they would be unable to catch the target, aircraft were diverted to attack the target and slow it down until the torpedo boats could arrive.
The aircraft saw no flag or other identifying characteristics on the ship. When the torpedo boats arrived, they asked the ship to identify itself. The ship insisted that they identify themselves first and began firing on them.
The torpedo boats launched five torpedoes at the ship and followed up with machine gun and cannon fire.
When the torpedo boats circled to the other side of the ship, they observed the characters “GTR-5” on the bow and realized this was not an Egyptian ship. They immediately broke off the attack and offered assistance.
Israel launched an internal investigation which resulted in a finding that no Israeli personnel behaved improperly or negligently. No disciplinary action was imposed on any Israeli personnel.