Israel Welcomes Release of American Spy Jonathan Pollard

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Jonathan Pollard in 1998.Credit: AP

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu conveyed a warm message to American spy Jonathan Pollard on Friday upon his release from U.S. prison after three decades. 

"The people of Israel welcome the release of Jonathan Pollard," Netanyahu said in a statement.

"As someone who raised Jonathan’s case for years with successive American presidents, I had long hoped this day would come," he said. "After three long and difficult decades, Jonathan has been reunited with his family. May this Sabbath bring him much joy and peace that will continue in the years and decades ahead."

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Pollard, who was sentenced to life in prison for spying against the United States on Israel’s behalf, was released on parole Friday. He had been behind bars since 1985.

Anne Pollard, his ex-wife, told Army Radio she has "been waiting for this day for 30 long years. It's unbelievable. It's an amazing moment."

But she also criticized the Israeli government for failing to secure his early release.

"Jonathan is free today only because of Jonathan," she said. "No one helped him. No government reduced his sentence by even one day."

She also addressed the possibility of meeting him in the future. "We will have an opportunity to speak alone, without cameras," she said.  "We will be able to have a private, amazing  conversation for the first time in 30 years." 

Anne Pollard, who was married to Jonathan Pollard when he was arrested, was sentenced to five years for her role in the espionage, but was granted early release in 1989. They later divorced.  

President Barack Obama shakes hands with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, Monday, Nov. 9, 2015. Credit: AP

President Reuven Rivlin congratulated Pollard on his release.

“Blessed is He who frees the imprisoned," he said in a statement. "We all offer blessings at the release of Jonathan Pollard after many long and difficult years of imprisonment. Throughout the years, we have felt Jonathan's pain, and felt responsible and obliged to see bring about his release.

“We congratulate Jonathan and his family today on their reunification, and pray they will have many years of happiness, health, and harmony.”

Interior Minister Silvan Shalom echoed Netanyahu's statement, saying that "after 30 years, our brother Jonathan Pollard is free. The efforts by the Israeli governments and citizens have finally bore fruit."

"We are waiting to see him here with us in Israel as a free man. Jonathan come home, we are waiting for you," the minister said, touching on a sensitive issue.

Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon also wished Pollard a good first Shabbat "as a free man" and expressing hope it would "symbolize for him a new beginning [and] a quiet life with his family."

Knesset speaker Yuli Edelstein sent Pollard a "warm, comforting and loving hug from the Knesset."

On Thursday, Netanyahu reportedly instructed Israeli officials to keep low-key about the release, Education Minister Naftali Bennett said.

The former U.S. Navy analyst's espionage for Israel in the 1980s remains a strain on ties with Washington, and his parole terms dictate that he stay in the United States for five years. Pollard, sentenced to life in prison after being convicted in 1987 of passing reams of classified information to Israel, has been behind bars since his arrest in 1985.

Pollard has said he wants to immigrate to Israel where his second wife, Esther, lives, and where he can expect to receive substantial Israeli government back-pay. He was granted Israeli citizenship while in prison. 

But a U.S. official said Friday that Pollard would have to stay in the United States.  "Obviously the one thing at issue is the requirement that he remains in the United States," Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes was quoted as saying.

"Once again, the president does not have any plans to alter the terms of his parole."

Israeli officials are concerned that too warm a celebration over Pollard's release might hurt efforts to persuade the U.S. government to let him leave for Israel sooner.

Successive U.S. administrations had resisted Israeli calls to show the unrepentant Pollard clemency, though Washington did, at times, consider early release as part of its efforts to revive talks on Palestinian statehood. 

Pollard's legal team has called on Obama to allow him to go to Israel immediately after release from federal prison in North Carolina, but have noted that he has a job and a place to live in the United States. 

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