352. Diplomatic Note From Secretary of State Rusk to the Israeli Ambassador (Harman)1

The Secretary of State presents his compliments to His Excellency the Ambassador of Israel and has the honor to refer to the Ambassador’s Note of June 10, 1967 concerning the attacks by Israeli aircraft and torpedo boats on the United States naval vessel U.S.S. Liberty, which were carried out shortly after 1400 and 1430 hours local time, respectively, on June 8, 1967 while the U.S.S. Liberty was engaged in peaceful activities in international waters.

At the time of the attack, the U.S.S Liberty was flying the American flag, and its identification was clearly indicated in large white letters and numerals on its hull. It was broad daylight and the weather conditions were excellent. Experience demonstrates that both the flag and the identification number of the vessel were readily visible from the air.

Beginning at about 0515 hours local time on June 8, 1967, and at intervals thereafter prior to the first attack, aircraft believed to be Israeli circled the U.S.S. Liberty on a number of occasions.

Accordingly, there is every reason to believe that the U.S.S. Liberty was or should have been identified, or at least her nationality determined, prior to the attack. In these circumstances, the later military attack by Israeli aircraft on the U.S.S. Liberty is quite literally incomprehensible. As a minimum, the attack must be condemned as an act of military irresponsibility reflecting reckless disregard for human life.

The subsequent attack by Israeli torpedo boats, substantially after the vessel was or should have been identified by Israeli military forces, manifests the same reckless disregard for human life. The silhouette and conduct of the U.S.S. Liberty readily distinguished it from any vessel [Page 636]that could have been considered as hostile. The U.S.S. Liberty was peacefully engaged, posed no threat whatsoever to the torpedo boats, and obviously carried no armament affording it a combat capability. It could and should have been scrutinized visually at close range before torpedoes were fired.

While the Ambassador of Israel has informed the Secretary of State that “the Government of Israel is prepared to make amends for the tragic loss of life and material damage,” the Secretary of State wishes to make clear that the United States Government expects the Government of Israel also to take the disciplinary measures which international law requires in the event of wrongful conduct by the military personnel of a State. He wishes also to make clear that the United States Government expects the Government of Israel to issue instructions necessary to ensure that United States personnel and property will not again be endangered by the wrongful actions of Israeli military personnel.

The United States Government expects that the Government of Israel will provide compensation in accordance with international law to the extent that it is possible to compensate for the losses sustained in this tragic event. The Department of State will, in the near future, present to the Government of Israel a full monetary statement of its claim.

  1. Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL 27 ARAB–ISR. No classification marking. The note, dated June 10, is a revised version of Document 256. It was revised by Katzenbach, Meeker, and Walt Rostow on July 11. Most of the revisions were made to correct incorrect times and incorrect statements in the original note. According to a handwritten note by Wriggins on a copy of the draft revised note, Rostow cleared it and deleted the word “wanton.” (Johnson Library, National Security File, Saunders Files, Israel, 6/l/67–10/31/67) The note is filed, together with Document 383, and a covering memorandum of July 20 from Walsh to Walt Rostow stating that they constituted the true, corrected versions of the exchange and that all other copies should be destroyed. Battle gave the revised note to Harman on July 11. In discussing the incident, Battle emphasized the “irate reaction” that the incident produced in Congress and the continuing strong interest of many members of Congress in the outcome of the investigations into its cause. (Airgram A–15 to Tel Aviv, July 14; National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL 27 ARAB–ISR)