Pakistan Air Force shot down 3 Israeli planes in 6-day war that ended with Israel’s victory. PAF pilots shot down total 10 Israeli jets so far.
The 1967 Arab-Israel war, to all appearances, tilted the geopolitical environment of the Middle East in favor of Tel Aviv, following a humiliating defeat of a three-state Arab alliance.
The six-day war ended with a UN-brokered cease-fire, but only after Israel occupied the Golan Heights, Gaza Strip, Sinai Peninsula, and the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, hugely altering the Middle East map.
Although the war was fought between Israel and an alliance of Egypt, Syria, and Jordan from June 5 to 10, 1967, nonetheless, it is remembered for the heroics of a fifth country’s air force, which had no direct involvement in the conflict.
On the occasion of the 54th anniversary of the game-changing event, the Arabs in the Middle East still recall the heroics of Pakistan Air Force (PAF) pilots who downed several Israeli aircraft, including Mirages, Mysteres, and Vautours, without losing a single plane of their own.
Pakistan’s Bangladeshi-origin fighter pilot Saif-ul-Azam, who passed away in June last year, alone shot down three Israeli fighter jets during the first three days of the war.
According to Air Commodore (Retd.) Kaiser Tufail, author of three books on air force history, the PAF shot down three Israeli jets – all by Flight Lieutenant (at that time) Saiful Azam – between June 5 and June 7.
“This is untrue that Pakistani pilots had shot down 10 Israeli planes in 1967 war. In reality, it was three in the 1967 war, and one in 1974 in Syria by Air Commodore (Retd.) Abdul Sattar Alvi,” he maintained.
The PAF had sent “a few” pilots – mainly for training and advisory role – to Jordan to train the Royal Jordanian Air Force (RJAF) pilots in November 1966.
When the war broke out on June 5, 1967, two PAF pilots – Azam and Flt. Lt. Sarwar Shad were serving with the RJAF and Tufail, who served in PAF from 1973 to 2005, recalled.
“Though they were purely sent to train the RJAF pilots, the Pakistani government allowed them to perform air defense duties at the outbreak of war,” he said, adding that effectively Azam had taken part in the war as his colleague was admitted to the hospital at that time.
– Saved from total destruction
Azam will go down in history, perhaps the only pilot who have flown fighter planes for four countries — Jordan, Iraq, Pakistan, and Bangladesh. He also holds the unique record of destroying fighter planes of two different air forces — India and Israel.
While flying the single-seat Hawker Hunter, he shot down the Israeli Air Force’s flagship transonic Dassault Mystere fighter-bomber aircraft in Jordan.
When he was shifted to an Iraqi airbase the next day, he brought down two state-of-art Israeli fighter aircrafts Vautour IIA and Dassault Mirage III.
Experts say due to Azam’s eagle eye, both Iraqi and Jordanian air bases were saved from meeting the fate of the Egyptian Air Force, which was decimated by Israelis.
In recognition of his heroic contributions, he was conferred with military awards by Jordan and Iraq.
– Clash of modern and outdated technologies
Air Marshall (Retd.) Amjad Hussain Khan dubbed the 1967 war as a clash between the modern US and the outdated Russian technologies, which ultimately resulted in Israel’s victory.
“Apart from RJAF that was trained by Indian pilots on British war style, the Egyptian and Syrian air forces were trained on outdated Soviet tactics. On the other hand, Israeli pilots had training and planes from the US, which both were way modern than that of the Soviet Union,” Khan, who was stationed in Iraq from 1967 to 1970 to establish a Fighters’ Leader School to train senior Iraqi Air Force and RJAF pilots, told Anadolu Agency.
Khan, later, took part and led a contingent of Pakistani pilots in the 1973 Ramadan War against Israel.
The key factor, he said, that made a difference was Israel’s air power based on US training and technology.
“Israel’s air defense force was very well organized compared to that of Syrians, and Egyptians, which had no coordination with ground forces.”
Supporting Khan’s views, Tufail said, “The Arab armies and the air forces were no match for the Israelis as Egyptian and Syrian forces were trained on obsolete Soviet tactics.”
The Arabs in the Middle East recall Azam’s outstanding performance in 1967, where his exceptional skills and maneuvering kept the Israeli Air Force at bay.
However, according to Tufail, the shooting down of Israeli aircraft could not be capitalized on due to the “total” destruction of air forces and subsequent the absence of ground support.
“The gallantry action of Azam, unfortunately, turned out to be mere symbolic in terms of the ultimate results of the war,” he opined.
“There was no question of ground support as all three countries’ air forces were completely mauled on the ground by Israeli Air Force on the very first day, i.e., June 5 (1967),” Tufail, an author of the bestseller “Against All Odds,” said.
He asserted that ground support would have been crucial if Pakistani pilots had shot down at least 30 Israeli aircraft and that Arab air and military forces would have been able to give such support.
Jordan had only one fighter squadron, which too was grounded in the first Israeli strike on June 6, he said.
“Also, the quality of military equipment, including the fighter aircraft, was no match for Israeli equipment,” Tufail observed.
Another reason for the Arabs’ defeat, he went on to argue, was that then-Egyptian President Gamal Nasser had lied to King Hussain of Jordan, claiming that Egyptian forces were on their way to Tel Aviv.
This, Tufail added, prompted Hussain to attack Israel for a link-up with Egyptian forces, which turned out to be a disaster.
“The truth was that the Egyptian air force had been destroyed on the ground by Israelis, and the Egyptian army was being attacked from the air,” he further said.
– Middle East map changed
The 1967 war, Khan said, had actually changed the Middle East map, giving an “upper hand” and a “bargain chip” to Tel Aviv.
“The 1967 war completely changed the Middle East’s geographical scenario just within the six days. Sinai Desert, West Bank, and Golan Heights were lost to Israel, and the latter’s superiority was established, which continues to date,” he noted.
Tel Aviv, he argued, had also managed to capitalize on its military victory in terms of diplomatic success forcing Jordan and Egypt to recognize it.
“It was a short war and the Arabs were completely unprepared for that,” Khan, who served in PAF from 1952 to 1988, said.