TEL AVIV (May. 19)
Defense Minister Yitzhak Rabin sent a message of condolence Tuesday to U.S. Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger for the deaths of American sailors aboard the USS Stark, a guided missile frigate severely damaged by a missile fired by an Iraqi aircraft in the Persian Gulf Sunday night. The death toll aboard the Stark has been put at 28 with nine men unaccounted for.
The message said: “Please accept, on behalf of the government of Israel and the Ministry of Defense, our condolences for the unfortunate loss of lives of U.S. Navy sailors and officers on board the USS Stark. We in Israel share your grief. I would be grateful to you if you could convey our sympathy to the U.S. Navy and to the bereaved families.”
NO SIMILARITY WITH LIBERTY INCIDENT
Rabin, at a press conference Tuesday, recalled the Israel Air Force attack of June 8, 1967 on the U.S. Navy ship Liberty off the Sinai coast at the height of the Six-Day War, which took the lives of 34 crewmen and injured 171.
Rabin, who was Chief of Staff of the Israel Defense Force at the time, said the only similarity between that incident and the attack on the Stark was the fact that both were American naval vessels.
His point was that Israel had given ample warning days earlier to the U.S. to withdraw the Liberty, a World War II Victory-type freighter converted to an electronic surveillance or “spy” ship, from the war zone. The Stark had no warning.
According to Rabin, when the Six-Day War broke out on June 6, 1967, both the U.S. and the Soviet Union had spy ships in the area. Israel warned the two superpowers that it was engaged in “intensive battle.”
The Soviets took the warning seriously and ordered its vessel out to sea. But the Americans failed to heed the warning and Israeli pilots mistook the Liberty for an Egyptian warship which had been reported, erroneously as it turned out, to be shelling Israeli troops near El Arish in Sinai. The Liberty, unarmed, had large American flags painted on its decks.
It was attacked by two Israel Air Force Mirage fighters, followed by Super-Mystere jets and torpedo boats. The Iraqi aircraft which attacked the Stark was also a French-made Mirage, firing a French-made Exocet missile.