Skip to comments.Birth of GROM: U.S. Praises Poland's Plans To Fly Soviet Jews to Israel (March 28, 1990)
Posted on 02/20/2007 8:36:57 PM PST by bd476
UPHEAVAL IN THE EAST;
U.S. Praises Poland's Plans To Fly Soviet Jews to Israel
Published: March 28, 1990
LEAD: The United States praised Poland today for agreeing to fly Soviet Jews to Israel and deplored the decision of the Hungarian airline, Malev, to stop flights in the face of threats of terrorism.
The United States praised Poland today for agreeing to fly Soviet Jews to Israel and deplored the decision of the Hungarian airline, Malev, to stop flights in the face of threats of terrorism.
[ Snip ]
Poland offered Monday to increase its flights to Israel to accommodate Soviet Jewish emigrants, and the Israelis have also pledged to find alternative routes.
Miss Tutwiler said: ''We regard as outrageous the efforts by terrorists to threaten or disrupt the flights of Soviet Jews going to Israel.
We are very pleased to see that Poland is willing to act as a transit point. They are acting very responsibly, and we hope that others will as well.''
(Excerpt) Read more at query.nytimes.com ...
Poland offered to escort Soviet Jews out of the Soviet Union and into Israel as early as 1985. Hungary was in the game as well but then later would back down under terrorist threats.
After the successful completion of Poland's Operation Bridge, intel revealed terrorists' plans to attack within Poland's own borders in retribution of Polish forces escorting Soviet Jews from the USSR.
The elite Polish Special Forces G.R.O.M. was formed for the most part, as a result of the threats.
Below I've posted a December 30, 1985 article from Time Magazine, discussing Poland's early offers to escort Jews out of the Soviet Union and into Israel.
Following the Time Magazine piece is a May 8, 2003 article from The Weekly Standard "The GROM Factor."
Diplomacy Flight Plan for Freedom
Monday, Dec. 30, 1985
By ELLIE MCGRATH
When Edgar Bronfman, chairman of the Seagram Co., flew to Moscow in September as president of the World Jewish Congress (W.J.C.), he was allowed to travel in his private jet, a relatively rare privilege for a Western visitor. At Moscow's Sheremetyevo Airport, he was received cordially by Kremlin officials. Bronfman's stated objective was to ask the Soviets to lift emigration restrictions for Jews who want to leave the Soviet Union and to allow religious freedom for Jews who wish to remain. Earlier this month Bronfman made another visit to Moscow, and last week sources familiar with the talks confirmed that he has been serving as a conduit in tentative negotiations between the Soviets and Israelis, whose diplomatic relations were broken off by Moscow following the 1967 Six-Day War between Egypt and Israel. The highly secret purpose of these talks, say these sources: to engineer the airlift of possibly thousands of Soviet Jews to Israel.
The complex scheme, which involves the Soviet Union, France, Poland and Israel, probably would not take place until at least after the Soviet Communist Party Congress in late February. The plan is to move the Soviet Jews first to Poland and then airlift them to Israel. In this way they would be prevented from attempting to emigrate directly to the U.S. or other Western countries. Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres told TIME during a visit to Geneva last week that "the Soviets have always complained that those allowed to emigrate go to the U.S. instead of Israel. Well, I agree that it is in the interest of the Soviet Union as well as my own country that they go to Israel." Peres, however, was cautious in his comments on the negotiations, saying only that Bronfman "got no concrete assurances whatever in Moscow." The possibility of an airlift was looked upon skeptically at the U.S. State Department. In Moscow, diplomats from Western and Arab countries characterized reports of a pending airlift as "wishful thinking."
Even so, the following scenario has been confirmed by sources in the U.S. who have been close to the negotiations. The plan for the airlift, they say, was Peres' brainchild. When Bronfman visited the Soviet Union in September, he reportedly carried with him personal messages from Peres. One source with knowledge of the Bronfman visit insists that the communications indicated that if the Soviet Union were to release a significant number of Jews and renew diplomatic relations with Israel, it could perhaps have a larger role in Middle East peace negotiations. If the Soviets delivered the Syrians to the conference table, Peres allegedly implied, the Israelis might return part of the Golan Heights to Syria. In late October, Peres met with French President Francois Mitterrand in Paris. After that meeting, Peres publicly announced that an airlift of Soviet Jews was being proposed, and said that France had offered to supply the planes.
Then three weeks ago, Poland entered the picture. Polish Leader General Wojciech Jaruzelski arrived unexpectedly in Paris for talks with Mitterrand. The meeting brought the French President criticism from his supporters, including Prime Minister Laurent Fabius.
Neither leader would comment on the subject of the discussions, but sources now indicate that the two talked about an air link for Soviet Jews to Israel via Poland. Such discussions are, however, denied by Jaruzelski's aides, and Israeli officials dismiss a broker role for Poland.
Indeed, Budapest and Bucharest have been mentioned in the Moscow discussions as possible transit points, according to one source. Yet two weeks ago Bronfman visited Warsaw and, say W.J.C. sources, discussed with Jaruzelski the emigration of Soviet Jews.
Whatever the exact state of these negotiations, everyone involved has < something to gain from an airlift of Soviet Jews. It might serve to increase trade between the U.S. and the Soviet Union, now restricted by the Jackson- Vanik amendment, which ties Soviet-American trade to improvements in human rights, particularly Jewish emigration.
For his middle-man role, Jaruzelski might win some points on human rights, perhaps enough to erase U.S. trade sanctions against Poland. Jaruzelski is already making moves in that direction: when Bronfman visited him in Warsaw, the general agreed to make pension payments to Polish Jews living in Israel and to restore Jewish monuments in Poland.
For now, at least, the major players are noncommittal. As observed in Paris last week by Samuel Zivs, a law professor at the Soviet Academy of Sciences and himself a Jew: "There must not be too much noise made around it. In other words, it must be pursued in the ways that Henry Kissinger once understood so well."
Skeptics at the U.S. State Department point out that the Soviet Union remains intransigent on its emigration policies.
While 51,300 Soviet Jews were allowed to leave the country in 1979, only about 1,200 are expected to leave this year.
And a Western diplomat in the Soviet Union insists that two weeks ago Bronfman met with Vadim Zagladin, a Central Committee functionary, and went away "empty-handed."
There is one sign of a thaw. Last month Jewish leaders were notified that Eliyahu Essas, the leader of the Jewish religion and culture movement in the Soviet Union, would be allowed to leave the country.
Essas, 42, a mathematician, has been waiting for an exit visa for twelve years. Some Jewish leaders are optimistic about an airlift.
Says one source close to the negotiations: "The Soviets haven't said when or how many, but they've indicated they'll do it."
For Soviet Jews, this could be the first crack in what might be an opening door.
With reporting by Nancy Traver/Moscow and Adam Zagorin/Paris, with other bureaus
Diplomacy Flight Plan for Freedom
The Weekly Standard
The GROM Factor
Haven't heard of Poland's Special Forces?
They're real, they're serious, and they're here to save the day.
by Victorino Matus
05/08/2003 2:40:00 PM
IT CAME AS A SURPRISE to many when the U.S. postwar plans for Iraq were finally revealed. Like Gaul, Iraq would be divided into three parts: an American zone, a British zone, and a Polish zone. But what role did Poland play during the war? It turns out a very important one--albeit one that was kept mostly secret.
One of the primary objectives during the early stages of Operation Iraqi Freedom was the port at Umm Qasr. Without it, delivering adequate humanitarian aid to the rest of Iraq would have been nearly impossible for the coalition. Not long after the start of the war, the port was secured--in large part thanks to GROM, Poland's elite commandos.
Who even knew Poland had special forces? For a while, not many. The Polish government waited three years before publicly disclosing GROM's existence. Standing for Grupa Reagowania Operacyjno Mobilnego (Operational Mobile Response Group), the name actually stems from a special-forces commander, Gromoslaw Czempinski, who, during the first Gulf War, led a Polish unit into Western Iraq to rescue a group of CIA operatives. One of the other men on that secret mission was Slawomir Petelicki--the father of GROM.
"GROM was my idea," General Petelicki says in his husky, accented voice. "I presented it to the new democratic government" in 1991 "and because I liked to give honor to the commander of my unit, I named it after Gromoslaw." (Grom also means thunder in Polish.) Petelicki, now retired from the military, spoke from Warsaw where he is now an independent consultant for, among others, Ernst & Young. It's quite a change of pace for a man once described in Jane's Intelligence Review as "his country's James Bond and Rambo wrapped neatly into one daunting package." (Petelicki also serves as chairman of the Special Forces Foundation. "I try to help former commandos and discourage them from going into organized crime--where there are many lucrative offers for work.")
Petelicki tried selling his idea of an elite Polish commando group much earlier, "but those Russians didn't like to have real special forces operating in Poland--they feared we could start training in guerrilla warfare against them." But the need did arise in 1990, following Operation Bridge, in which Poland helped Soviet Jews enter Israel. Intelligence reports indicated that Hezbollah and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine were planning reprisals inside the Polish border. Then-Prime Minister Tadeusz Mazowiecki recognized the threat and approved of Petelicki's plan for a new counter-terror force.
"I had a lot of candidates at first" says the general. "That first team I assembled from people I knew well. They were all in their 30s. Now the age of recruits is about 26." According to Jane's Intelligence Review, "GROM candidates were first subjected to a grueling psychological examination meant to search for confident and innovative soldiers as well as those who, though they might be lacking in physical strength, possessed the rare gift of internal iron will." The candidates then undergo back-breaking training deep in the Carpathian Mountains.
Only 1 to 5 percent of these candidates actually get into GROM. But once they are in, the real training begins: GROM operators practice "killing house" entries (with commanders often serving as hostages), storm hijacked commercial airliners complete with mannequin terrorists and bullet traps, and lead raids onto ships and offshore platforms. All of this is done with live ammunition. The commandos are trained in paramedics and demolitions and many are SCUBA experts. They mostly work in four to six-man assault teams except for the snipers who are separate because, as Petelicki explains, "that is a job for special people and they are very hard to replace."
Radek Sikorski, Poland's former deputy minister of defense and now executive director of the New Atlantic Initiative, recently told me he witnessed the snipers at their best during a training exercise in 1999. "The GROM operators were working alongside the Delta Force and were tasked with rescuing the chairman of the National Bank of Poland. He was being held hostage by terrorists in possession of a nuclear device." Sikorski says the snipers waited for days in complete disguise. "They just followed the terrorists' routines and then started to pick them off one by one."
GROM operators are said to be martial arts experts and capable of "cold killing." "We created our own style of martial arts," says Petelicki. "I have an old friend who is a master of karate and jujitsu and is a sixth degree black belt. He created the style with other specialists--it is most similar to what the Israelis do."
And what about "cold killing"? Asked if the ominous term refers to garrotes or piano wire, Petelicki replies "Yes." Pausing to choose his words carefully, he explains, "Many things. For instance, we can create a weapon from . . . well . . . many things." The weapon used most by GROM is the MP5 submachine gun. They also get to choose their own sidearm--most choose either the Glock Model 19 or the SIG-Sauer P228.
PETELICKI says that GROM is a mixture of the Delta Force, SAS, and the Navy SEALs. "We took what we found best from each group." (GROM trainers have been to Fort Bragg as well as Hereford--home of the SAS.)
For the past twelve years, GROM operators have engaged in numerous operations, including peacekeeping in the Balkans and Haiti. In 1997, they successfully captured Slavko Dokmanovic, aka, "the Butcher of Vukovar" who was held responsible for the murder of 260 Croats. Despite being well-protected by Serb commandos, Dokmanovic was successfully captured alive (his bodyguards didn't fare so well).
So what was the significance in having 56 commandos from the 300-member GROM take part in Operation Iraqi Freedom? "This war saved GROM," says Petelicki. "Without it, it would have been broken up between the army and navy. But now everyone knows about GROM in Poland and they are proud of them."
Radek Sikorski observes that "It was wise for the United States to show countries who backed it in this war that they are appreciated. This will probably pave the way for more 'coalitions of the willing.' Poland took a lot of risks supporting America. It also took a beating from some of its European friends." Sikorski thinks this could be the beginning of a special relationship with the United States, akin to the one shared by Great Britain, but warns "it is still in the very early stages and much will also depend on America's staying power in the region, its willingness to remain interested in Central Europe. One thing the Americans could do is move their bases out of Germany and into Poland, which has less population density and greater space to conduct exercises."
Since GROM's creation 12 years ago, only 4 commandos have been killed in operations. I asked General Petelicki if, during those years, there is one mission that stands out. "Although 70 percent of our operations are still top secret, the one operation I liked best was this last one at Umm Qasr. That was definitely my favorite. [He sighs.] I was jealous I could not be there instead of Colonel Polko [the current commander of GROM]. Umm Qasr was a very risky operation--a lot of explosives were used--but there were no casualties for us." He adds, "I liked it because we were able to help our friends, the Americans, who helped us create GROM. It was a real masterpiece."
They're real, they're serious, and they're here to save the day.
Thanks to Lizol for posting the story about the recent passing of LTC Leszek Drewniak
Cpt. Leszek Drewniak and the commander of GROM gen.Petelicki, Port-au-Prince, Haiti
LTC Leszek Drewniak - co-founder of the Polish special forces GROM unit dies.
Thanks for posting.