By Bob Litton
In my April 7 post about “Extremism”, I mentioned that the late U.S. Senator Barry Goldwater, a Republican, was reportedly much saddened by the death of President John F. Kennedy, a Democrat.
Now, although I obtained a bachelor’s degree in history and earned my living during 20 years as a community journalist, I cannot claim to be an expert in history. I had witnessed Goldwater on TV wiping tears away from his eyes when he realized that the Republican Party had been embarrassed by President Richard Nixon during the Watergate drama; I accepted then that Goldwater indeed loved his country more than he loved his party, and I respected him for that quality. My research caused me to wonder if there were any interesting anecdotes about him and Kennedy working together. I did not discover any, but my research was admittedly quite cursory.
While engaged in that search, however, I found some remarkably telling and now timely paragraphs in Wikipedia’s article on Kennedy. I have included them below. Please note that I have deleted all the citation numbers; if you want to see supporting references, go to the Wikipedia article online:
Kennedy extended the first informal security guarantees to Israel in 1962 and, beginning in 1963, was the first US president to allow the sale to Israel of advanced US weaponry (the MIM-23 Hawk), as well as to provide diplomatic support for Israeli policies which were opposed by Arab neighbours; such as its water project on the Jordan River.
As result of this newly created security alliance, Kennedy also encountered tensions with the Israeli government regarding the production of nuclear materials in Dimona, which he believed could instigate a nuclear arms-race in the Middle East. After the existence of a nuclear plant was initially denied by the Israeli government, David Ben-Gurion stated in a speech to the Israeli Knesset on December 21, 1960, that the purpose of the nuclear plant at Beersheba was for “research in problems of arid zones and desert flora and fauna”. When Ben-Gurion met with Kennedy in New York, he claimed that Dimona was being developed to provide nuclear power for desalinization and other peaceful purposes “for the time being”.
When Kennedy wrote that he was skeptical, and stated in a May 1963 letter to Ben-Gurion that American support to Israel could be in jeopardy if reliable information on the Israeli nuclear program was not forthcoming, Ben-Gurion repeated previous reassurances that Dimona was being developed for peaceful purposes. The Israeli government resisted American pressure to open its nuclear facilities to International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspections. In 1962, the US and Israeli governments had agreed to an annual inspection regime. A science attaché at the embassy in Tel Aviv concluded that parts of the Dimona facility had been shut down temporarily to mislead American scientists when they visited.
According to Seymour Hersh, the Israelis set up false control rooms to show the Americans. Israeli lobbyist Abe Feinberg stated, “It was part of my job to tip them off that Kennedy was insisting on [an inspection].” Hersh contends the inspections were conducted in such a way that it “guaranteed that the whole procedure would be little more than a whitewash, as the president and his senior advisors had to understand: the American inspection team would have to schedule its visits well in advance, and with the full acquiescence of Israel.” Marc Trachtenberg argued: “Although well aware of what the Israelis were doing, Kennedy chose to take this as satisfactory evidence of Israeli compliance with America’s non-proliferation policy.” The American who led the inspection team stated that the essential goal of the inspections was to find “ways to not reach the point of taking action against Israel’s nuclear weapons program.”
Rodger Davies, the director of the State Department’s Office of Near Eastern Affairs, concluded in March 1965 that Israel was developing nuclear weapons. He reported that Israel’s target date for achieving nuclear capability was 1968–69. On May 1, 1968, Undersecretary of State Nicholas Katzenbach told President Johnson that Dimona was producing enough plutonium to produce two bombs a year. The State Department argued that if Israel wanted arms, it should accept international supervision of its nuclear program. Dimona was never placed under IAEA safeguards. Attempts to write Israeli adherence to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) into contracts for the supply of U.S. weapons continued throughout 1968.
Now, what did Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warn a joint session of the U.S. Congress last March 3? Read the pertinent paragraphs here:
Now, I know this is not gonna come a shock — as a shock to any of you, but Iran not only defies inspectors, it also plays a pretty good game of hide-and-cheat with them.
The U.N.’s nuclear watchdog agency, the IAEA, said again yesterday that Iran still refuses to come clean about its military nuclear program. Iran was also caught — caught twice, not once, twice — operating secret nuclear facilities in Natanz and Qom, facilities that inspectors didn’t even know existed.
Right now, Iran could be hiding nuclear facilities that we don’t know about, the U.S. and Israel. As the former head of inspections for the IAEA said in 2013, he said, “If there’s no undeclared installation today in Iran, it will be the first time in 20 years that it doesn’t have one.” Iran has proven time and again that it cannot be trusted. And that’s why the first major concession is a source of great concern. It leaves Iran with a vast nuclear infrastructure and relies on inspectors to prevent a breakout. That concession creates a real danger that Iran could get to the bomb by violating the deal.
Born in 1949, Benjamin Netanyahu was in his early teens when Israel developed its nuclear arsenal; therefore, a wildly imaginative bit of leeway might be granted him as being “ignorant” of those events. Also, I do not wish to paint all Israel with a broad brush dipped in Netanyahu. Moreover, I have read of many Israeli youths who, viewing their own country as aggressive occupiers of Palestinian territory, have refused to serve in the military forces; and Israeli law allows them to do so. I applaud them.
I want to mention one other sorry episode in our partnership with Israel: the June 8, 1967, attack by Israeli Mirage jets and torpedo boats on the USS Liberty, an intelligence-gathering ship in international waters off the coast of Israel and Egypt. Thirty-four U.S. servicemen were killed and 171 wounded that day. Wikipedia has published online a lengthy but prodigiously well-organized and fascinating article about the incident.
There was much controversy concerning the attack on USS Liberty in the months immediately following, and it is still ongoing today. The story is too involved for me to include here, so I suggest that you go to Wikipedia’s account (URL above), which I consider remarkably balanced; hardly anyone other than the men on the ship come out of it unstained by ignorance, guile, and/or cowardice; it is a story full of elements fit for a Tom Clancy novel.
Although I cannot provide you with much more information, I will summarize the basic issue here: The Israeli military claimed that they could not see any flag on the ship and concluded that it was an Egyptian war vessel, so they strafed and torpedoed it until ordered to stop; the ship’s crew members claimed that their flag was easily visible on that clear day. Here is part of the story:
During the Six-Day War between Israel and several Arab nations, the United States of America maintained a neutral country status. Several days before the war began, the USS Liberty was ordered to proceed to the eastern Mediterranean area to perform a signals intelligence collection mission in international waters near the north coast of Sinai, Egypt. After the war erupted, due to concerns about her safety as she approached her patrol area, several messages were sent to Liberty to increase her allowable closest point of approach (CPA) to Egypt’s and Israel’s coasts from 12.5 and 6.5 nmi (14.4 and 7.5 mi; 23.2 and 12.0 km), respectively, to 20 and 15 nmi (23 and 17 mi; 37 and 28 km), and then later to 100 nmi (120 mi; 190 km) for both countries. Unfortunately, due to ineffective message handling and routing, the CPA change messages were not received until after the attack.
According to Israeli sources, at the start of the war on 5 June, General Yitzhak Rabin (then IDF Chief of Staff) informed Commander Ernest Carl Castle, the American Naval Attaché in Tel Aviv, that Israel would defend its coast with every means at its disposal, including sinking unidentified ships. Also, he asked the U.S. to keep its ships away from Israel’s shore or at least inform Israel of their exact position.
American sources said that no inquiry about ships in the area was made until after the Liberty attack ended. In a message sent from U.S. Secretary of State Dean Rusk to U.S. Ambassador Walworth Barbour, in Tel Aviv, Israel, Rusk asked for “urgent confirmation” of Israel’s statement. Barbour responded: “No request for info on U.S. ships operating off Sinai was made until after Liberty incident.” Further, Barbour stated: “Had Israelis made such an inquiry it would have been forwarded immediately to the chief of naval operations and other high naval commands and repeated to dept [Department of State].”
Israel eventually accepted blame for the attack but has continued to explain it as an accidental misidentification. Israel also paid millions in reparations.
Secretary of State Rusk, however, was not buying into the “accident” excuse; he wrote:
I was never satisfied with the Israeli explanation. Their sustained attack to disable and sink Liberty precluded an assault by accident or some trigger-happy local commander. Through diplomatic channels we refused to accept their explanations. I didn’t believe them then, and I don’t believe them to this day. The attack was outrageous.
President Lyndon Johnson, though, bought the Israeli version. God, but I hate to relay this paragraph because, being mostly a Democrat, it puts President Johnson in an even dimmer light than he already exists in history books and the public memory, but here is what one author wrote about Johnson’s attitude at the time:
George Lenczowski notes: “It was significant that, in contrast to his secretary of state, President Johnson fully accepted the Israeli version of the tragic incident.” He notes that Johnson himself only included one small paragraph about the Liberty in his autobiography in which he accepted the Israeli explanation of “error”, but also minimized the whole affair and distorted the actual number of dead and wounded, by lowering them from 34 to 10 and 171 to 100, respectively. Lenczowski further states: “It seems Johnson was more interested in avoiding a possible confrontation with the Soviet Union…than in restraining Israel.”
I apologize for all the lengthy quotes. My primary intent in presenting all this to you was to show you that no Israeli—Netanyahu above all—has the moral authority to accuse another nation of subterfuge and deceit.