Israel’s “false flag” attack on the U.S.S. Liberty in 1967 cost 34 American lives. Dick Cheney planned to disguise U.S. troops as Iranians to fire on American ships to start a war. With Bolton and Israel on the warpath, the risk of another similar act is higher than ever.
By Whitney Webb,
With the beat of Washington’s war drums continuing to grow, particularly following the Monday revelation of a government plan to send as many as 120,000 troops to counter Iran, the threat of an “accidental” provocation or a “false flag” is also becoming increasingly likely. As MintPress recently reported, the possibility of an “accident” leading to open conflict between the U.S. and Iran is now being openly stated by top European officials — such as U.K. Foreign Minister Jeremy Hunt — following meetings with noted Iran hawk and current Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.
In Part I of this series, MintPress explored how current events — including seemingly unrelated regional events, such as the Israeli government’s bid to occupy the West Bank and the Syrian offensive against Al Qaeda-held Idlib — were converging to create a “now or never” scenario for those most eager for regime change in Iran and a U.S.-Iran military confrontation, particularly Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and U.S. National Security Advisor John Bolton.
This installment will also reveal how Trump’s top political patron Sheldon Adelson — who is also the top donor to Netanyahu and a long-time confidant of Bolton, whom he helped install in his powerful post in the Trump administration — may be the deciding factor whether Trump authorizes the use of military force against Iran.
Yet, while the endgame for Bolton, Adelson and Netanyahu, as well as Pompeo, has long been a U.S.-led war with Iran, public justification for such hostilities must be given in order to manufacture American consent for a war against a country significantly larger than Iraq, complete with a more powerful army. Historically, the U.S. government has frequently planned and used false flags in order to justify the initiation or expansion of hostilities, with the best-known examples being Operation Northwoods and the Gulf of Tonkin incident.
However, given the current situation, it is essential to revisit two other incidents that reveal that the key players pushing for war in Iran — Israel’s government and neoconservatives of the Bush era (Bolton chief among them) — have planned and attempted to execute false flag attacks to push the U.S. into a major war that the American public would not normally support.
Remembering the U.S.S. Liberty
On June 8, 1967, one of the worst attacks on a U.S. naval vessel during peacetime took place, an attack that the U.S. government has kept shrouded in secrecy over 50 years later in what many have called a cover-up.
Around two in the afternoon on a cloudless, sunny day, unmarked aircraft and torpedo boats attacked the U.S.S. Liberty — a largely defenseless naval intelligence vessel flying visible American flags — without provocation. The attack saw the aggressors commit several war crimes, including attacking with unmarked aircraft and vessels; shooting survivor-bearing lifeboats out of the water with machine-gun fire; and the jamming of the Liberty’s ability to use international distress frequencies.
Thirty-four American sailors lost their lives and 173 were wounded, and the Liberty — which cost U.S. taxpayers $40 million to build — was so badly damaged it was subsequently sold for scrap metal for pennies on the dollar.
During the attack and in its immediate aftermath, Liberty survivors were puzzled as to why the U.S. Department of Defense ordered the recall of U.S. ships that were on route to aid the Liberty from the hostile attack, which many sailors had assumed at the time was being conducted by Egyptian or Arab forces in light of the ship’s proximity to the Sinai Peninsula.
Indeed, the attack on the Liberty took place during the Israeli-Arab Six Day War, a war that Israel claimed to have started as a preemptive means of self-defense but that was later revealed to have been the culmination of years of planning for a war of aggression. This fact was openly admitted by former Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin in the early 1980s. Israel, an American ally, was not suspected by Liberty crewmen at the time of the attack as being their potential assailants.
However, no Arab nation had attacked the Liberty that day, though that assumption by Liberty sailors was what their true assailants had hoped they and the American public would believe. Instead, it had been Israeli aircraft and torpedo boats that had fired on the clearly-marked American vessel with torpedos, machine gun fire and even napalm. The Israelis “officially” maintain to this day, with little challenge from the U.S. government, that the attack was an accident, a fact that has been and continues to be heavily contested by the attack’s survivors.
Yet, beyond the testimony of survivors, the most compelling evidence that the attack on the Liberty was no accident comes from the Israelis themselves. Intercepted Israeli communications from the time of attack, made public only in recent years, reveal that the ship had been identified as American prior to the attack and, despite that, the plan was to sink the U.S.S. Liberty and ensure that there were no survivors. The goal of the attack was to place the blame on Egyptian forces, which necessitated there being no American survivors who could dispute the claim. If the Liberty had been sunk, it would have provided the United States legal cover and popular support for a more central role in the conflict and its crucial diplomatic aftermath. Indeed, the Israeli attack on the U.S.S. Liberty was a false flag, one that failed to achieve its intended goal of goading the U.S. into a major war.
Instead of responding with indignation, then-President Lyndon Johnson — whether it occurred before or during the attack is disputed — ordered that the Liberty not be rescued during the course of the attack, allegedly not wanting to harm relations with or “embarrass” an ally even if it meant consigning the 294-person crew of the Liberty to death.\
Damaged to the starboard side of the USS Liberty following Israeli attacks, June, 1967. Photo | NSA Archive
Those who survived the assault of the Liberty owe their lives to the then-23-year-old Terry Halbardier, who valiantly navigated the Liberty’s napalm-glazed deck and managed to jury-rig an antenna and send out an SOS signal to the Navy’s Sixth Fleet. Upon intercepting that distress signal, the Israelis immediately broke off the attack. Halbardier’s heroism prevented the massacre of all 294 crewmen and allowed them to live to tell their stories, despite Johnson’s having left them for dead.
Yet many Liberty survivors were unable to tell their stories for decades, as the U.S. government issued gag orders and threatened them with being court-martialed for speaking to anyone, even their spouses, about the incident. The Navy’s Board of Inquiry, which abetted the cover-up, was headed by Admiral John S. McCain Jr., the father of the late Senator John McCain of Arizona.
To this day, the U.S. government has failed to conduct a full, public inquiry into the attack. Liberty survivors who have since spoken out have been accused of “anti-Semitism” and of slandering Israel for discussing their personal and traumatic experiences of the attack, significantly compounding their suffering and post-traumatic stress.
While the survivors of Israel’s assault on the Liberty have been denied closure, the U.S. government’s response has endangered the lives of American personnel by clearly signaling to Israel that they will suffer no consequences for such “false flag” attacks, regardless of whether American servicemen are wounded or killed. As former CIA intelligence analyst Ray McGovern has previously noted for Consortium News, “the U.S. cover-up [of the attack on the U.S.S. Liberty] taught the Israelis that they could literally get away with murder.”
In a 2015 interview on the Real News Network, McGovern warned that the attack on the Liberty still holds “current relevance” and that he felt that “the Israelis are capable of doing this kind of thing when they see their supreme national interests at stake.” McGovern further stated that Israeli officials may well have considered a provocation, such as false flag, to throw a wrench in the Iran nuclear deal, which was being negotiated at the time.
McGovern — in an open letter to President Barack Obama, co-authored with former Deputy National Intelligence Officer for the Near East in the National Intelligence Council Elizabeth Murray — noted that Admiral Mike Mullen, former member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in the Bush administration, had flown to Israel in 2003 and told the Israeli government emphatically “to disabuse themselves of the notion that U.S. military support would be knee-jerk automatic if they somehow provoked open hostilities with Iran. According to the Israeli press, Mullen went so far as to warn the Israelis not to even think about another incident at sea like the deliberate Israeli attack on the U.S.S. Liberty.”
McGovern and Murray cited Mullen’s statements to Israeli officials as the first time that “a senior U.S. official braced Israel so blatantly about the Liberty incident.” In an email to MintPress, McGovern stated that he was unsure whether current Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joseph Dunford “can be counted upon to play a similar restraining role” in preventing hostilities with Iran. Notably, Dunford was in attendance along with Bolton at the recent CIA meeting to discuss “highly sensitive covert actions” in relation to Iran.
An “accident” waiting to happen
Since Bolton announced the movement of the Lincoln carrier strike group towards the Persian Gulf, some have pointed out that the vessels could well be destined for use in a “false flag” provocation, such as one planned by former Vice President Dick Cheney in 2008 (to be discussed shortly) and another conducted by Israel in 1967. Indeed, as MintPress noted the day after Bolton’s announcement, the carrier strike group’s deployment was actually announced a month prior and was a routine deployment.
The political analysis blog Moon of Alabama also noticed that Bolton had framed this routine deployment as something more dire for his own purposes, writing:
The carrier deployment to the Gulf is routine. It had beenannounced on April 8. The U.S. has bomberson rotation in the Middle East since 2001. Moreover – a carrier in the Persian Gulf is a sure sign that the U.S. will not attack Iran. Within the restricted waters of the Persian Gulf a carrier is a too easy target. The idea though may be to provide for an ‘accident’’ as Iran’s Foreign Minister [Javad Zarif] described it in a recent CBS interview.”
In an interview late last month with CBS’ Face the Nation, Zarif explicitly told journalist Margaret Brennan his concern about an imminent “false flag” to trigger war with Iran by John Bolton in collaboration with Israeli, Saudi and Emirati leadership:
Foreign Minister Zarif | I don’t think military confrontation will happen. I think people have more prudence than allowing a military confrontation to happen. But, I think the U.S. administration is putting things in place for accidents to happen. And there has to be extreme vigilance, so that people who are planning this type of accident would not have their way.
Margaret Brennan | What do you mean? What kind of accident are you talking about?
Zarif | I’m talking about people who have — who are designing confrontation, whose interest —
Brennan | Who’s doing that?
Zarif | My ‘B’ team. I call —
Brennan | What do you mean ‘B’ team?
Zarif | I call the group ‘B’ team who have always tried to create tension, whose continued existence depends on tension. Ambassador Bolton, one ‘B,’ Bibi Netanyahu, second ‘B,’ Bin Zayed, third ‘B,’ Bin Salman, fourth ‘B.’ And I’m not just making accusations.
With an aircraft carrier little more than a sitting duck in the area amid rising tensions between the U.S. and Iran, an “accident” may well occur. As was noted in Part I of this mini-series, such a possibility was directly stated by British Foreign Minister Jeremy Hunt on Monday.
Hunt told reporters “We are very worried about the risk of a [U.S.-Iran] conflict happening by accident, with an escalation that is unintended really on either side but ends with some kind of conflict.” Hunt notably made the statement after meeting with Pompeo, who is currently in Europe meeting with European heads of state to discuss Iran. The Associated Press noted that the Trump administration had warned European officials, Hunt included, that “Iran or its proxies could be targeting maritime traffic in the Persian Gulf region.”
The possibility of such an “accident” is further compounded by Bolton’s aforementioned and “highly unusual” meeting about Iran and “highly sensitive covert actions” at CIA headquarters last week. Declassified CIA documents show that the agency had previously planned to stage terror attacks on U.S. soil and murder Americans to blame on Cuba in order to justify invading the Caribbean nation in the 1960s. That plan, known as Operation Northwoods, further called for the destruction of U.S. military vessels to be blamed on Cuba and also the staging of fires and mortar attacks on U.S. military installations in Cuba (i.e., Guantanamo Bay) or nearby (i.e., in Florida). Though Operation Northwoods was never enacted, the agency has been accused of orchestrating numerous “false flags” in the decades since.
As was recently seen with the alleged “sabotage” of Saudi oil tankers near Iran, there are many potential targets for provocation. However, the incident that would most assuredly force U.S. involvement in a military conflict would be an attack on an American military target. While some have dismissed Bolton’s announcement of the carrier’s movements as a self-serving manipulation of the facts, it may have had the added purpose of framing the lead-up to an unfortunate “accident” targeting American vessels in the area, particularly the Lincoln carrier strike group or one of the other subsequent U.S. naval deployments to the Middle East.
The neocon plan for a Liberty-like attack
If any sort of provocation blamed on Iran should occur, it is important to consider that a powerful group of U.S. politicians — the neo-conservatives — have long sought to plan provocations that would drag the U.S. into war with Iran. One of the most recent examples took place during the George W. Bush administration when then-Vice President Dick Cheney held a meeting with other administration officials in 2008 aimed at provoking war with Iran.
The details of that meeting were revealed by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Seymour Hersh, who described some of the ideas considered in that Cheney-led meeting as follows:
There were a dozen ideas proffered about how to trigger a war. The one that interested me the most was why don’t we build in our shipyard four or five boats that look like Iranian PT boats. Put Navy seals on them with a lot of arms. And next time one of our boats goes to the Straits of Hormuz, start a shoot-up. Might cost some lives.
And it was rejected because you can’t have Americans killing Americans. That’s the kind of, that’s the level of stuff we’re talking about. Provocation.
Silly? Maybe. But potentially very lethal. Because … if you get the right incident, the American public will support bang-bang-kiss-kiss. You know, we’re into it.”
It is unknown if any Bush officials now in the Trump administration were present at that meeting where the use of a “false flag” pitting Americans against Americans disguised as Iranian was discussed. However, what is known is that John Bolton — who was a member of the neo-conservative Project for a New American Century, along with Cheney, and who also served in the Bush administration — has zealously sought war with Iran for nearly two decades. Indeed, the New York Times recently described Bolton as “one of the administration’s most virulent Iran hawks, whose push for confrontation with Tehran was ignored more than a decade ago by President George W. Bush.” It is also known that Bolton has a history of playing fast and loose with unconfirmed intelligence and also distorting intelligence to fit his pre-determined narrative.
As MintPress reported last year, former Israeli Ambassador to the UN Danny Gillerman has stated that Bolton, when serving in the Bush administration, was prone to “direct fire on his own forces,” — i.e., the U.S. government — in order to advance the goals of the Israeli government, especially with respect to Iran. For instance, in more than one instance while in the Bush administration, Bolton traveled to Israel in violation of State Department rules and negotiated privately with Israeli officials, including the then-head of the Mossad, Meir Dagan, to lay the groundwork for a war with Iran. As journalist Gareth Porter has noted, Bolton did this in an effort to directly undermine Colin Powell, Bolton’s superior, just as Powell “was saying administration policy was not to attack Iran.”
Worse still, Bolton has pressured Israeli officials to initiate a war with Iran, even when they didn’t support such a move. One such case was Shaul Mofaz, former Israeli defense minister, who told Israeli media last March that Bolton “tried to convince me that Israel needs to attack Iran,” even though Mofaz did not see such a war as “a smart move — not on the part of the Americans today or anyone else until the threat is real.”
Pompeo’s Holy war and rapture
Furthermore, Bolton is not the only top Trump administration official who has long promoted a war with Iran, as current Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had also called for the preemptive bombing of Iran long before he joined the Trump administration. Pompeo’s desire to push the U.S. towards war with Iran is based on his fervent adherence to Christian Zionism. As a result of the admitted influence his beliefs hold over his foreign policy, Pompeo sees an “apocalyptic” war between Israel and Iran as a necessary precursor to the Second Coming of Christ and the “rapture.”
Pompeo is on record speaking about the rapture on several occasions, particularly as CIA director when he spoke about the event — which holds that “true believers” will ascend to Heaven prior to the tribulations and trials of the “end times” — so often that he made veteran intelligence officers uncomfortable. As a result, some have asserted that Pompeo is “a man who appears to view American foreign policy as a vehicle for holy war.”
The fact that the actions of the current Secretary of State are influenced by his Christian Zionist faith was on display last month, when American Christian journalist Chris Mitchell of the Christian Broadcasting Network asked Pompeo: “Could it be that President Trump right now has been sort of raised for such a time as this … to help save the Jewish people from the Iranian menace?” Pompeo responded that this was definitely “possible.”
If Adelson has his way . . .
Yet, perhaps the most dangerous force driving the U.S. towards a war with Israel is not the public face of the Trump administration’s foreign policy but its private face. Sheldon Adelson — the top donor to Trump, the entire Republican Party, and also the top political donor to Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu — has long sought war with Iran, and several of Adelson’s desired policies have already been enacted by Trump. These include recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, replacing H.R. McMaster with Bolton as National Security Advisor, and withdrawing from the Iran nuclear deal. Several reports have asserted that pressure from Adelson was a deciding factor in Trump’s fulfillment of these policies.
Adelson’s influence over Trump again takes on great significance, given recent events with respect to Iran, as Adelson has previously advocated for a U.S. nuclear attack on Iran without provocation, just so the U.S. could “impose its demands [on Iran] from a position of strength.”
Per Adelson’s plan, the U.S. would drop a nuclear bomb in the middle of the Iranian desert and then threaten that “the next one is in the middle of Tehran” to show that “we mean business.” Tehran, Iran’s capital, is home to nearly 9 million people with 15 million more in its suburbs. Were Tehran to be attacked with nuclear weapons, an estimated 7 million would die within moments, according to a 2013 study jointly conducted by researchers at the University of Georgia and Harvard.
Sheldon Adelson | Trump
Sheldon Adelson, center, arrives to hear President Donald Trump speak at the Republican Jewish Coalition’s annual meeting, April 6, 2019, in Las Vegas. Jacquelyn Martin | AP
Yet, any sort of diplomatic engagement with Iran, according to Adelson, is “the worst negotiating tactic I could ever imagine.”
In other words, Adelson has called for dropping nuclear weapons on a country, including its heavily populated capital city, for no reason other than to show that the U.S. “means business” and considers nuclear war a negotiating tactic.
While some media reports have suggested that Trump is unwilling to go to war with Iran and is uneasy with the hawkish policies of Bolton and Pompeo, he will have a hard time ignoring Adelson. Adelson, who poured $35 million into Trump’s 2016 campaign and spent $55 million on Republican primary campaigns last year, is the party’s most influential donor and angering him could well mean the end of Trump’s political career.
Would Trump resist a push for war from not just Netanyhu, Bolton and Pompeo but Adelson as well? It seems unlikely. Craig Holman of the watchdog group Public Citizen told ProPublica in 2018 that he “would put Adelson at the very top of the list of both access and influence in the Trump administration,” a sentiment that was also echoed by Alan Dershowitz, who has done legal work for Adelson and advised Trump. Dershowitz told ProPublica that Adelson “just calls the president all the time. Donald Trump takes Sheldon Adelson’s calls.” As MintPress has noted on several occasions, those calls often translate into policy decisions.
Unfortunately, Trump — even when he tries to follow a different path, as he attempted to do in Syria — often ends up conceding to the neo-conservatives and Zionist extremists who surround (and fund) him.
History issues a warning
The combination of current tensions and the documented history of both Israel and Bush-era neo-conservatives planning and even executing false flag attacks in order to justify U.S. military action against a desired target — should set off alarm bells. Instead, most corporate media outlets are playing up unfounded or baseless claims of the “Iranian threat” and Iran’s unproven role in recent acts of “sabotage” in Saudi Arabia and in the UAE in ways that are strikingly similar to the lead-up to the 2003 invasion of Iraq.
Furthermore, the history and mindset of both Bolton and Pompeo, in addition to the unprecedented influence of Sheldon Adelson in the Trump administration, add yet another layer to this increasingly complex yet undeniably troubling situation.
As a consequence, it is imperative for people around the world, particularly in the United States, to be skeptical of any act of violence blamed on Iran before a full investigation is completed, and to resist a rapid push to begin a conflict with Iran that could well follow such an act.
The time for resistance, ideally, would be before such an attack occurs, making critical the widespread dissemination of relevant information left unmentioned by the corporate media, such as that contained in Parts I and II of this series. The crucial context here is the well-documented willingness of both the Israeli and U.S. governments to sacrifice (i.e., kill) Americans in order to plunder the natural resources of “unfriendly” nations and pursue the objectives of the political and economic elite of both countries.
Feature photo | U.S. Sailors aboard the Wasp-class amphibious assault ship USS Kearsarge (LHD 3) as it transits the Strait of Hormuz, Feb. 15, 2019. Mike DiMestico | Dvids
Whitney Webb is a MintPress News journalist based in Chile. She has contributed to several independent media outlets including Global Research, EcoWatch, the Ron Paul Institute and 21st Century Wire, among others. She has made several radio and television appearances and is the 2019 winner of the Serena Shim Award for Uncompromised Integrity in Journalism.
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