Conservative Liberal

FDR would have been a Republican today.

Friendly fire and conspiracy theories

The reason I am writing on this subject is because some time ago I got an e-mail on this subject from from somebody I respect. Thus, although normally I would not dignify any conspiracy theory with an answer, in this case I felt that I needed to respond.

Friendly fire happens in wars. The Wikipedia article I link to lists numerous examples of friendly fire incidents throughout history. The most well known recent incidents are the accidental killing of 4 Canadian soldiers in Afghanistan and the death of Pat Tillman. It is always sad and tragic. In some instances friendly fire happened between future foes. For example, the highest-scoring Allied Ace Ivan Kozhedub is officially credited with 62 aerial kills. Yet his real score is 64. His 2 additional kills are American P-51 Mustangs. Apparently late in the war, while on a fighter sweep mission, he spotted a formation of American B-17 Flying Fortresses under attack by German fighters. He went in to lend a hand to the Allies and opened fire on the Germans. The Germans retreated, but Kozhedub found himself under attack by P-51 Mustangs escorting the bombers. Why? You see, Kozhedub flew Lavochkin La-7 fighter, which could be easily mistaken for the German Focke-Wulf FW-190. Look at the pictures for yourself:

Lavochkin La-7

Fig. 1. Kozhedub’s Lavochkin La-7.

Fig. 2. Focke-Wulf FW-190-A8. Spring of 1945.

In heat of battle it is pretty easy to mistake one of these aircraft for another. And if you have ever flown any Combat Flight simulator, you know that it is almost impossible to see the markings. Mustang was slightly faster than La-7, so the only way for Kozhedub to avoid being shot down by the unrelenting Mustangs was to shoot the Mustangs down. Unfortunately one of the Mustang pilots was killed. But the other managed to bail out and land in the area of Kozhedub’s airfield. When Kozhedub landed, he thought he was in huge trouble, but lucky for him, when the American pilot was asked who shot him down, he replied that he was shot down by a Focke-Wulf with a red nose. Thus, the incident was hushed up.

Sometimes friendly fire occurs when a party not participating in the conflict tries to gather intelligence on both sides. American Wayne Peake shot down an RAF Mosquito, while flying for Israeli Air Force during Israel’s War for Independence. The Mosquito was flying from Iraq. Aparently the British denied that they were flying there. So, an assumption that it was a hostile aircraft was very reasonable. There was another incident, also described here, when RAF Spitfires went down to the ground to look at the Israeli convoy just strafed by Egyptian Spitfires which fled the area. Needless to say, they were immediately engaged by the IAF, also flying Spitfires. 3 or 4 RAF pilots were shot down.

What all these incidents have in common is the fact that they are all regarded for what they are: unfortunate and tragic accidents that often happen in wars. There is however one such incident that is surrounded by conspiracy theories that even now, 40 years later would not go away. I am talking about the USS Liberty incident. Anti-Semites on the Left and on the Right are eager to scream about deliberate Israeli attack. For the Left this incident also presents a rare opportunity to be on the side of American military, just like the story of SS St. Louis gives them a chance to defend the Jews. In the case of SS St. Louis they get to defend the Jews, while blaming America. In the case of USS Liberty they get to defend American military, while blaming Israel. The incident was investigated in both countries. But it does not matter: the conspiracy lives on. Just like with 9/11 conspiracy theories, there people who believe that huge numbers of people in both countries are in on it. There are even people who actually justify a deliberate attack by Israeli forces on USS Liberty, as described on this conspiratorial site. Here the proponents of the conspiracy theory use a straw man argument, saying that those who justify the attack claim that USS Liberty was spying on Israel, and then go on to say that there were no Hebrew linguists on board, but only Arabic and Russian linguists. Yet then they go on to quote one of the survivors saying: "We heard their (Israeli pilots – Eric-Odessit) communications". So, which is it? The last time Israeli pilots communicated in English was during the War for Independence, when they all were American, Canadian and other British Commonwealth nationals. And those who were born in Israel, like Modi Alon and Ezer Weitzman, were RAF veterans. But in 1967 the language used by IAF was Hebrew. So, whatever survivors of the attack might have heard, they could not understand. In June NSA released the declassified intercepts of Israeli helicopter pilots participating in the rescue efforts. Here are the links to those transcripts in English:

Labeled 104, dated 8 June 1967, 1229Z-1244Z;

Labeled 105, dated 8 June 1967, 1247Z-1319Z;

Labeled 130, dated 8 June 1967, 1307Z-1311Z.

It is very clear that the helicopter pilots and their commanders did not know who the ship belonged to, although by that time they were already worried that a tragedy had occurred. The fact that there are no intercepts prior to the rescue efforts suggests that indeed there were no Hebrew linguists on board, and Liberty was not spying on Israel. So, what the hell did the survivors hear? Read the rest of the NSA document dump. Apparently, USS Liberty was ordered out of the area, but somehow did not get the message. Yet, the Israelis were assured that there were no friendlies in the area. Now put yourself in the place of Israeli commanders. You are assured that the only ships in the area are hostiles. You know that your enemies are not shy about using illegal tricks, like flying false colors. You would order an attack even if if you did see the friendly flag. In fact, I suspect the ship would have been attacked even if it was flying an Israeli flag. And by the way, if you have a combat flight simulator (any of them), try attacking a ship in it. By the time you the flag, you’ll be crashing into the ship.

On the other hand, what would be the motivation for Israel to attack an American ship? The conspiratorial site I linked to, as well as other sites like that one, mention some tactical reasons for it. But again, put yourself in the position of Israeli leaders at the time. Your tiny country is surrounded by enemies. The country that was your sole supplier of sophisticated weapons, like aircraft, just decided that they would be better off if they were friends with the Arabs. Yes, that was France. They even used your preventive strike on your enemies preparing to attack as an excuse to stop the shipment of Mirage fighter that you had already paid for. Out of 2 world superpowers, one – the Soviet Union – is openly hostile and supports your enemies bent on your annihilation. The other superpower – the USA – is somewhat friendly. You would hope to cultivate that friendship, and you have a good chance to do just that, since the rival superpower happens to support your enemies. Why would you risk alienating America and blow your chance for American support, even if you think that an American ship is spying on you? Les Kinsolving of World Net Daily wrote a couple of articles on the subject. In one he wrote:

…the theory that Israel, during the Six Day War in 1967, would have deliberately attacked the U.S.S. Liberty is utterly preposterous.

It is as preposterous as the idea that Capt. John Paul Jones would have been ordered by Gen. George Washington to sink the French troop ships bringing soldiers and artillery to help us win our war of independence. (emphasis mine – Eric-Odessit)

This is exactly my thought.

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July 29, 2007 Posted by | Articles, History | 1 Comment