WASHINGTON (Dec. 18)
A final settlement of U.S. claims resulting from action by Israel’s armed forces 13 years ago during the Six-Day War against the American naval vessel, USS Liberty, has been made with U.S. government acceptance of Israel’s proposal to pay $6 million for damage to the ship.
Making this announcement today, the State Deportment said Israel will pay three annual installments of $2 million each, beginning next January 15 “as final settlement of the U.S. claims for compensation for damage to the USS Liberty.”
The State Department said “The government of Israel paid in full in 1968 the U.S. claim for $3,323,500 on behalf of the families of the crewmen who were killed in the incident.” In addition, “in 1969, the government of Israel paid in full the U.S. claim for $3,452,275 for injuries sustained by members of the Liberty’s crew.”
The ship was damaged by Israeli fighter aircraft on. June 8, 1967 while off the Sinai coast and the Egyptian town of El Arish which was being shelled in the course of the Six-Day War. American casualties were 34 dead and 75 wounded. The Liberty’s naval role was that of a communications monitor, sometimes known as a “spy ship.”
Since reports hove cropped up from time to time in the media here and abroad, often sensationalized, that Israel deliberately attacked the Liberty, questions were raised today when State Deportment spokesman John Trattner announced the final settlement. “The incident was thoroughly investigated in 1967 by the U.S. Navy,” Trattner said. “The government of Israel immediately accepted responsibility” and attributed the actions to “error and confusion. “Trattner added that the State Deportment “has no information it was a deliberate attack.”
He noted that a Navy “court of inquiry concluded that it has insufficient information to make a judgement about the reasons for the Israeli action. The transcript of the court of inquiry has been made available to the public for some time.”
THE ISRAELI GOVERNMENT’S VIEW
The Israel government has consistently and pointed out since the incident took place that in the fighting in Sinai, Israeli forces took the Liberty to be a hostile warship since it had no clear identification signs and wore gray point and since neutral shipping had been warned to stay out of that eastern Mediterranean area. Upon realizing that the Liberty was American, Israeli forces helped in the rescue efforts and the government of Israel immediately apologized to the U.S. and expressed condolences to the families of the casualties.
A spokesperson at the Israel Embassy here told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency today that “The Israeli official commission of inquiry reached a conclusion that erroneous identification of the Liberty as on enemy warship was not due to Israeli negligence but because of the absence of clear markings on the Liberty as on American ship”
Observers here noted that the Liberty, a converted World War II freighter of the “Victory” type, had a distinctive silhouette. A number of “Victory” type freighters were purchased by Egypt after the war and employed in its merchant marine.
REPORT TO CONGRESS DUE
Trattner said that a claims settlement “does not normally require the approval of Congress” but that “the Department will make a report shortly” to Congress. “In addition, we have already contacted appropriate Congressional committees to inform them about this settlement,” he said.
Trattner disclosed that the U.S. Navy’s claim for damage to the Liberty was between $7-$7.5 million. The ship was retired from service however and the repairs were never made. Consequently, the U.S. accepted the lower figure proposed by Israel.
Final negotiations over the ship damage claims were made some weeks ago when Israeli Ambassador Ephraim Evron took up the matter with Vice President Walter Mondale, the JTA was informed. After exchanges held at the State Department and after Israel’s proposal was brought to President Carter’s attention, they were accepted in formal documentation by the State Deportment.