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November 25, 2018 9:59 am

Polish Military Envoy to Israel Emphasizes Strong Defense Cooperation

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Jaroslaw Kaczynski, leader of the ruling party Law and Justice, delivers a speech during the party convention, in Warsaw, Poland April 14, 2018. Photo: Agencja Gazeta/Slawomir Kaminski via REUTERS.

JNS.orgCol. Adam Grzymkowski — Poland’s Defense, Military, Naval, and Air Attaché to Israel — told JNS in an interview that military ties between Israel and Poland are solid and unaffected by past disputes over Poland’s role in the Holocaust and the current controversy regarding its government.

“The crisis in relations did not affect the military cooperation, and we are dealing with this problem to restore relations to how they were before,” he said. In a sign of the warming ties, Tel Aviv marked 100 years of Polish independence earlier this month.

In June, Poland changed a controversial Holocaust law that had upset Israel, paving the way for an improvement in relations. Soon afterwards, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his Polish counterpart, Mateusz Morawiecki, held separate press conferences announcing the easing of the crisis.

Grzymkowski, who stressed that he is not involved in any of the political processes, said that both countries have the upmost concern for security.

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“There is very close and special cooperation between our air forces,” he said, adding that one reason is that both countries use the same F-16 fighter jet. In the past two years, senior Polish air force and defense officials have visited Israel to discuss military issues. Poland was also one of seven foreign countries taking part in the Blue Flag exercise in 2017 — Israel’s largest air exercise ever — as well as the one in 2015. The Polish diplomat said that his country is planning to take part in the 2019 exercise, too.

Asked if military ties were ever at risk because of the latest tensions, Grzymkowski dismissed such concerns, saying that the security ties have “a very strong basis, having been built up over years. You can’t destroy what has been built on a solid foundation.”

Furthermore, he continued, “Israel is a [non-member] NATO partner and main ally of the US, and we rely on both.”

In 2015, Israel and Poland began an exchange program called “Friends in Uniform,” in which Polish officers visit their counterparts in Israel and learn the country’s history. Israeli officers have also gone to Poland to learn about Jewish history and the Holocaust in a program called “Witnesses in Uniform,” in addition to meeting with military officials.

Israel and Poland also have another common concern: Russia. Last year, NATO deployed a multinational contingent of mostly American troops to Poland and the Baltic region in response to concerns about Russian aggression. Israel is concerned about Russian arms sales to its enemies in the Middle East, as well as its strong presence in Syria, backing the Iran-Syria-Hezbollah axis.

The Polish envoy said that Russia does not hesitate to use force to promote its foreign-policy aims, noting such actions in Georgia, Ukraine, and Syria in recent years. Grzymkowski, who has served in the Polish military since 1994 and began his career by attending the Military University of Technology in Warsaw, previously served as the deputy military attaché in China. He has also served in NATO and UN missions in various countries throughout the Middle East. Before becoming a diplomat, he studied national security at the Polish National Defense University and diplomacy at Collegium Civitas University in Warsaw.

Poland is also part of the international coalition against the Islamic State, and has forces based in Kuwait in support of this mission. In Afghanistan, Poland’s forces help train the local army.

Grzymkowski pointed out that Poland is sending soldiers to attend many military courses in Israel, and during the British Mandate more than 50,000 Polish soldiers, including thousands of Jews, were stationed in Palestine.

“It must be stressed that our commander at the time, Wladyslaw Anders, allowed Jews to leave the Polish army to fight with the pre-state militias the Irgun and Haganah,” said Grzymkowski. Former Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin was one of them.

Polish military involvement in the area was renewed in the 1970s as part of the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL). The force was established in 1978 after Israel withdrew from Lebanon. But Poland ceased its participation in this force in 2009.

Poland had also participated in the UN Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) established in 1974, marking the ceasefire between Israel and Syria on the Golan Heights that ended the 1973 Yom Kippur War. “We are looking to participate again in a UN mission in the Middle East, especially because Poland is now a member of the Security Council,” noted Grzymkowski.

Overall, he is enjoying his stay in the Jewish state, saying, “Israel is very demanding country to be defense attaché, but at the same time, is one of the most beautiful and nice places to live for diplomats with families.”

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