Former Jewish American spy Jonathan Pollard, who served 30 years in an American prison and five years on strict parole, landed in Israel early Wednesday morning after his parole restrictions had been lifted last month.
Pollard, 66, became a free man after the U.S. Parole Commission had issued a certificate terminating his parole and lifting all parole restrictions in November.
Pollard had long voiced a desire to immigrate to Israel, which granted him citizenship. He and his wife Esther flew in a private plane, belonging to the owner of the Israeli daily Israel Hayom Sheldon Adelson, from Newark International Airport in New Jersey.
After his parole restrictions were lifted, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told Pollard that Israel is “waiting for you with open arms" and greeted the couple on the plane's ramp at Ben-Gurion International Airport Wednesday morning.
Netanyahu presented Jonathan Pollard with an Israeli identity card upon his arrival and said: "Welcome back. It is great that you have finally come home. Now you can start life anew, with freedom and happiness."
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Jonathan Pollard said: "We are ecstatic to be home at last after 35 years. We thank the people of Israel and the Prime Minister of Israel for bringing us home. No one is more proud of this country or its leader than we are. We hope to become productive citizens as soon and as quickly as possible and get on with our lives here."
"This is a wonderful country. It has a tremendous future. It is the future of the Jewish people and we are not going anywhere," he added.
The couple own an apartment in Jerusalem and they will quarantine there for a fortnight.
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In an earlier statement, the prime minister said that he had been "committed to his release for many years and worked tirelessly for his return" and that he "expects Jonathan Pollard to arrive in Israel soon."
Pollard, who was convicted in 1987 of spying for Israel when he served as an intelligence analyst in the U.S. Navy’s counterterrorism center, was sentenced to life in prison with the possibility of parole after 30 years.
During Pollard’s years in prison, Israeli governments had also made several unsuccessful pushes asking U.S. administrations to pardon the spy.
In 2011, then-Vice President Joe Biden, while campaigning for U.S. President Barack Obama's reelection, told a group of Florida rabbis that "President Obama was considering clemency, but I told him, 'Over my dead body are we going to let him out before his time. If it were up to me, he would stay in jail for life."
Biden met with a group of U.S. Jewish leaders including then-President of the Union for Reform Judaism Rabbi Eric H. Yoffie and then-Anti-Defamation League Director Abraham Foxman following his Pollard remarks.
Then-Knesset speaker Reuven Rivlin urged the U.S. vice president to show leniency following his remarks, saying that the Pollard issue "reached an absurd level, under any universal standard, human or legal."
In November 2015, he was released from Butner Federal Correctional Complex in North Carolina, where he served his sentence and moved to New York City. His parole conditions included being confined to certain areas of N.Y.C., wearing an electronic ankle bracelet at all times, a 7 P.M. to 7 A.M. curfew, and constant surveillance of his computers. Pollard was also barred from speaking to journalists.
In 1984, Pollard and his then-fiancée Anne Henderson volunteered to spy for Israel while Pollard was working as an intelligence analyst in the U.S. Navy’s counterterrorism center. Col. Aviem Sela, an air force pilot who was spending a sabbatical at Columbia University, was the person who connected Pollard with Rafi Eitan, then-head of the Lakam Scientific Liaison Bureau – a secret intelligence unit within the Defense Ministry that collected technical and scientific, often nuclear-related, intel.
Eitan and Lakam’s people in New York and Washington ran Pollard for over a year. Pollard systematically passed classified documents on a number of topics related to the development of chemical weapons in Iraq and Syria, satellite photos from Tunisia (used by Israel in the 1985 bombing of PLO headquarters there), information on Arab armies, and more.
In 1985, when Pollard used his office computer to cull more classified documents, his supervisors and security officers became suspicious and he was placed under surveillance. When Pollard and his wife realized they had been exposed, they fled to the Israeli Embassy in Washington. However, on Eitan’s orders, they were told to leave. The couple was then apprehended by the FBI.
Anne Henderson Pollard was sentenced to five years for abetting his actions. Jonathan and Anne divorced in the early 1990s and Pollard married Esther soon after, in prison.
The Butner Federal Correctional Complex, where he spent 30 years, was once ranked number ninth on Forbes Magazine's list of America's 10 "cushiest" prisons.