Liberty Incident

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LIBERTY INCIDENT. The USS Liberty (AGTR-5), a U.S. Navy communications intelligence ship, was attacked by Israeli air and sea forces on 8 June 1967 while cruising in international waters in the Mediterranean Sea off the coast of the Sinai Peninsula. The Israeli attack occurred on the fourth day of the Israeli-Arab Six Day War, just prior to Israel's assault of the Golan Heights in Syria. In addition to the extensive damage to the Liberty, its crew suffered 34 dead and 171 wounded. To preserve the ship's non-hostile status, the Liberty's commander, Captain William L. McGonagle, directed the crew not to return fire. Except for a brief episode of unauthorized machine gun fire at attacking Israeli torpedo boats, theLiberty offered no armed defense. For his heroism under fire, Captain McGonagle was awarded the Medal of Honor in June 1968.

Israeli motivation for the attack and the official response of the administration of President Lyndon B. Johnson have been shrouded in secrecy and controversy. Israel deemed the attack accidental, claiming the Liberty was mistaken for an Egyptian craft. The Johnson administration accepted this explanation and Israeli apologies, and Israel subsequently paid compensation to the victims and for ship damages. Some American officials and members of the Liberty's crew contended that Israel's actions were intentional, possibly to prevent the United States from learning of Israel's plans to attack Syria, and that the Johnson administration aborted efforts by American aircraft to assist the vessel.


Borne, John E. The USS "Liberty": Dissenting History vs. Official History. New York: Reconsideration Press, 1995.

Ennes, James M., Jr. Assault on the "Liberty": The True Story of the Israeli Attack on an American Intelligence Ship. New York: Random House, 1979.

Vincent H.Demma

See alsoIsrael, Relations with .

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Liberty Incident

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