Former Carter National Security adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski made news in an interview implying that the US should be prepared to militarily confront any Israeli planes headed for a preemptive strike on Iranian nuclear facilities they suspect to be developing nuclear weapons.
"We are not exactly impotent little babies. They have to fly over our airspace in Iraq. Are we just going to sit there and watch?... They have the choice of turning back or not. No one wishes for this but it could be a Liberty in reverse."
But the real danger is not that it "could be a Liberty in reverse," but an incident just like the Liberty. Both ABC's Jake Tapper and The Jerusalem Post have helpfully reminded us, in Tapper's words: "The USS Liberty was a U.S. Navy technical research ship that the Israeli Air Force mistakenly attacked during the Six Day War in 1967."
The USS Liberty was an American spy ship well out in international waters north of the Sinai peninsula listening in on the military traffic as the Six Day War progressed. It was overflown thirteen times in the previous two days by Israeli Air Force planes and eight times just prior to the Israeli attack by various IAF aircraft, some passing so close their engine vibration rattled the Liberty's deck plates and some of their pilots even waved to crew members on board.
It was 2PM on a bright sunny afternoon and with its huge antennae and clunky Liberty ship transport vessel lines lumbering at less than 10 knots it certainly was in no danger of being thought a warship. But as a precaution the Liberty also flew three American flags.
It also had the clear and very large numerical markings of an American naval vessel easily identified in any number of reference works in every defense establishment in the world. Admiral Thomas Moorer later called it the most identifiable naval vessels in the US Navy. One of the flags was shot down during the attack and replaced with a huge one 13 feet long, but the attack went on. The Israelis claimed they saw no flags.
Between 2PM and 4PM the Liberty was repeatedly attacked by Israeli IAF aircraft and torpedo boats, had 34 crewmembers killed and 171 wounded and almost sunk. Many of those knowledgeable about the attack, including then Secretary of State Dean Rusk and Admiral Isaac Kidd, saw it as an intentional act by Israel.
But let's go along with Jake Tapper and the Jerusalem Post. Let's assume it was a misidentification.
If the Israeli Air Force can fly 21 times over a clunky freighter with US Navy markings moving at five knots flying three American flags in broad daylight and then spend two hours killing Americans trying to sink it in repeated attacks, our equally clearly marked bases in Iraq are vulnerable to a "mistaken attack" as well.
Forget all the arguments over the preemptive strike itself. The real danger may be what happens if the IAF thinks it is bombing Iranian nuclear weapons facilities when it is attacking our troops in Iraq?