As the sun rose on Day Four, the war was essentially over. There was only a little more fighting and dying left to do.
In the Sinai, some Egyptian units were still putting up a fight, and the Jordanians continued an organized retreat. But by 3:30 p.m., Egypt would accept a cease fire, and a few hours later the last major battle in the Sinai (at Kalat a-nahal) would wind down. Just after midnight, Israeli units would begin linking up and consolidating their victories on the eastern side of the Suez Canal.
By 8 a.m., on the Jordanian front, Israeli forces from all three command areas (Northern, Central, and Southern) were linked up. Israeli units would even move a short distance into Jordan itself, before returning back across the river. At 1 p.m., combat engineers blew up the bridges across the Jordan River to keep the Jordanians from making any counter attacks.
Day Four was turning out to be an incredible success.
However, there was one important failure.
At 5:55 a.m., Israeli reconnaissance aircraft spot a ship off the coast of Gaza. They later identify the ship as a US ship. US commanders instruct the ship, the USS Liberty,Â to move to a position 100 miles away from the Israeli and Egyptian coasts. The orders are not received.
At 9:00 a.m., reconnaissance aircraft again spot theÂ USS Liberty 30 kilometers off the coast of the Sinai, near El Arish. Israeli command staff mark the ship’s location. The Israeli Chief of Staff, Yitzhak Rabin, contacts the Naval Attache of the US Embassy and asks the US to remove their ships from the battle zone. Rabin repeatedly asks theÂ US to provide him with a Naval Liaison.
The United States refuses Rabin’s request.
At 11 a.m., the duty officer goes off shift, taking theÂ marker for the USS Liberty off the board.
24 minutes later, ammunition dumps at El Arish explode, and Israeli commanders indicate that theyÂ had been shelled by Egyptian navalÂ units. Rabin orders all unidentified ships attacked and sunk.Â Â
At 1:41 p.m., Israeli torpedoÂ boat squadron PagodaÂ sights a ship near El ArishÂ and requests air support.Â Pagoda begins moving toward the ship. Reconnaissance aircraftÂ sight the ship but cannot make a positive identification.Â The torpedo boats identify the ship asÂ an Egyptian supply ship, the El Quesir.Â Â
At 1:57 p.m.,Â two Israeli Mirage fighter aircraft make strafing runs, and Israeli Mysteres fighters drop napalm bombs. The ship begins to burn.Â Israeli aircraft break off their attack when they see that the ship has been marked with characters from the Latin alphabet. TheÂ Israeli torpedo boatÂ squadron is ordered to notÂ attack the ship.
As torpedo boatsÂ approach the ship, crewmen on the ship open fire, and the torpedo boatsÂ launch five torpedoes in response.Â One torpedo strikes the ship.
The torpedo boats break off their attack when they identify the ship as American. They hold off at 500 yards and ask the ship, via Morse code (flashing light), if they require assistance.
The USS Liberty responds that they do not require assistance and begins to retreat from the area.
As a result of tragic miscommunication, 35 US crewmen were killed and 141 were wounded. Israel would immediatelyÂ offer its apologies and give compensation to theÂ families of the crewmen.Â
In subsequent formal hearings, records supplied by the Israeli government and the sworn testimony of the US crewmenÂ would exonerate Israel of malicious intent. However,Â some of the crewmen wouldÂ later publish statements contradicting their testimony and accusing Israel ofÂ intentionally targeting theÂ USS Liberty.*
The moral of the story? Do not enter the battle zones of other peoples’ conflicts. The Fog of War is deadly.Â
However, the rest of Day Four was a great success.
It is an irony, that the instigators of the war had suffered little damage. The Syrians were getting off scot free**.
*For a more detailed account of the USS Liberty tragedy, visit www.sixdaywar.org/uss-liberty.asp
** The word ‘scot’ in scot free comes fromÂ theÂ Old Norse word for payment or contribution. The term scot freeÂ originates from Medieval times when a person who avoided his share of municipal taxes… Well, he wasÂ described as having gotten off scot free.Â For a more complete explanation, go here: www.worldwidewords.org/qa/qa-sco1.htm