Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Tuesday that convicted spy Jonathan Pollard was working for the Israeli government, after Israel's Ambassador to the United States apparently contradicted the official state position, Army Radio reported.
After being pressed on whether Israel gathers intelligence on its American ally, Ambassador Michael Oren said in an interview on a Washington radio station that Pollard was working for a rogue intelligence agency.
"Israel does not, does not, I stress, collect information on the United States," Oren said.
Pollard, a former civilian intelligence analyst, was sentenced to life in prison in 1987 on charges of spying on the U.S.
Officials from the Prime Minister's office said that Netanyahu asked Oren to publish an official clarification of his remarks.
Ambassador Oren issued a statement in response saying that in responding to a journalist’s question, he attempted to emphasize that the Pollard incident occurred over 25 years ago by a unit that no longer exists, for which Israel took full responsibility.
He added that Pollard worked for and on behalf of Israel, and that he hopes for his earliest release.
When the interviewer from WTOP radio asked on Tuesday morning about the Pollard case, Oren responded: "Jonathan Pollard occurred in the mid-1980s. Now, we're talking about an event that was run by a rogue organization in the Israeli intelligence community. That was, what, 25 years ago?"
For years after Pollard's captured, Israel insisted he was a rogue agent - but in 1998, during his firts term as prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu admitted that the agent was part of an officially sanctioned operation.
In 2007, as leader of the opposition, Netanyahu visited Pollard in prison and vowed that if he returned to power, he would work for the spy's release.
But on Monday Oren appeared to revert to Israel's original position, although the envoy said that in the radio interview that Israel "would certainly welcome his release".
The U.S. has refused to release Pollard, despite close ties with Israel and repeated requests for clemency from Israeli officials.
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