War is normally measured by its final outcome, but many individual heroes gave up their lives for the Arab side during the 1967 Six-Day War. (Image courtesy AP)
This past June marked the 45th anniversary of the Arab defeat of the 1967 war. War is normally measured by its final outcome, but many individual heroes faithfully gave up their lives for the Arab side, defending the honor of their nations. The actions of those men deserve to be highlighted and explained, especially the contributions of the Pakistani pilot Saiful Azam and the brave Jordanian soldiers of the battle of Ammunition Hill in Jerusalem.
At 12:48 p.m. on June 5, four Israeli jets were descending on Jordan’s Mafraq air base to smash the country’s tiny air force, shortly after the entire Egyptian air force had been reduced to rubble.
To intercept the incoming attack, Jordanian air force commanders deputized Flt. Lt. Saiful Azam, who was on loan as an advisor from Pakistan. Once airborne with other Jordanian pilots, Saiful Azam engaged the attacking aircrafts in an air-to-air combat, shooting down a Mystére commanded by Israeli pilot H. Boleh and shot and damaging another that crash-landed in Israeli territory.
Two days later he was urgently dispatched to Iraq along with several Jordanian pilots to defend the Iraqi air bases against the Israeli air force which by then had ruled without any challenge the Arab skies over Egypt, Syria, Jordan and now Iraq. Here, he again was deputized by the Iraqi air force, along with top Jordanian pilot Ihsan Shurdom, who later became the commander of Jordanian air force, to fly its Hunters in defense of its H-3 and al-Walid air bases. Once airborne the Jordanian and Iraqi pilots with Saiful Azam leading the formation intercepted the attacking Israeli aircrafts that ended up of the shooting down two of Azam’s Iraqi wingmen by the attacking Israelis. It was then when Saiful Azam used his air combat skills flying the Iraqi Hunter shot down two of the Israeli attacking planes.
Within 72 hours, Saiful Azam became the only fighter-pilot in the world to hold the record of shooting down three confirmed kills of Israeli aircrafts in air-to-air combat, a record that still stands today.
His other records included being the only fighter pilot to fly in three air forces ─ Pakistani, Jordanian, and Iraqi. Adding to his record, was his downing of an Indian Gnat aircraft during the Pakistani war with India in 1965, making him yet again the only pilot to shoot down three kinds of military aircrafts in two different air forces.
Azam was honored and awarded medals in Iraq and Jordan for his heroics but despite his remarkable military achievements and services in the Arab world, he remains unknown to the Arab public and very little is written about him in Arabic. A retired colonel in the Jordanian air force told me that “very few people know about Azam’s services outside the air force.” Azam then moved to Bangladesh after it became an independent country and served in its air force until his retirement.
All told, Pakistani Air Force pilots, in addition to Saiful Azam serving in Jordan, Iraq, Egypt and Syria, in 1967 war, downed as many as 10 Israeli aircrafts without losing a single pilot or a single aircraft. Pakistan, moreover, provided the Arab states with numerous military advisors and pilots who also served in 1973 war with remarkable achievements. The Pakistani military also provided critical military restructuring and reevaluation especially to Jordan after the 1967 war.
It is rather strange that the Pakistani contribution to Arab militaries is never mentioned in Arab culture let alone in official Arab histories of the war. Pakistan had a contingent of at least 16 pilots who served as volunteers in Jordan, Egypt, Syria and Iraq in1967 and 1973 wars.
Pakistani air force states that all its volunteer pilots scored direct hits against Israeli aircrafts and suffered no losses. During the 1973 war, for example Flt. Lt. A. Sattar Alvi became the first Pakistani pilot, flying a Syrian aircraft to shoot down an Israeli Mirage in air combat. Similarly and on the Egyptian front, PAF pilot Flt. Lt. M. Hatif , flying an Egyptian MiG-21 shot down an Israeli F-4 phantom in an air combat. Pakistani Air Force did not lose a single pilot or aircraft in any of the wars.