(November 22, 2018 / JNS) Col. 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.
“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, the Tel Aviv municipality marked 100 years of Polish independence on earlier this month by lighting up the building in the colors of the Polish flag.
Poland changed a controversial Holocaust law in June that had upset Israel and the United States, paving the way for improvement in relations. Soon afterwards, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his Polish counterpart, Mateusz Morawiecki, held separate press conferences announcing the end 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.
“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, Polish senior air-force officials and Defense Ministry representatives have visited Israel and discussed military issues.
Poland was one of seven foreign countries taking part in the Blue Flag exercise in 2017—the country’s largest air exercise ever held—as well as the one in 2015. The Polish diplomat said that Poland 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 U.S., and we rely on both.”
Exchange program works to educate both parties
Since 2015, Israel and Poland began an exchange program called “Friends in Uniform,” where Polish officers would visit their counterparts in Israel and learn the country’s history. Israeli officers went to Poland to learn about Jewish history and the Holocaust in a program called “Witnesses in Uniform,” in addition to their meetings with military officials.
Grzymkowski noted that Israeli officers had begun visiting Poland around 15 years ago.
Still, they do have a common concern: Russia. The Polish military envoy noted that its neighbor continues to build up its armed forces.
Last year, NATO deployed a multinational contingent of mostly American troops to Poland and to the Baltic region in response to worries about Russian aggression. This was one of the decisions taken during the 2016 NATO Summit in Warsaw.
Israel is concerned about Russian arm 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 U.N. 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 part of the international coalition against Islamic State and has forces based in Kuwait in support of this mission. In Afghanistan, its forces help train the local army.
Grzymkowski pointed out that Poland is sending soldiers to attend many military courses in Israel, including the important commanders’ course.
The Polish Ander’s Army under the British Mandate
The Polish envoy points out that during the British Mandate before the creation of the State of Israel, more than 50,000 Polish soldiers, including thousands of Jews, were stationed here. “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 such Jew who received permission to leave the army.
Polish military involvement in the area was renewed in the 1970s as part of the U.N. Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL). The force was established in 1978 after Israel withdrew from Lebanon. Poland ceased its participation in this force in 2009.
Poland had also participated in the U.N. 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 U.N. 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.”
col Adam Grzymkowski