Israeli Army Promotes Pollard's Handler, Indicted in Espionage Affair

Aviem Sella introduced Jonathan Pollard to his Mossad recruiter in the early 1980s while he was studying in New York, but never faced trial in the U.S. because Israel refused to extradite him

Sam Sokol
Sam Sokol
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Aviem Sella, in 2012.
Aviem Sella, in 2012.Credit: Screenshot from the Fisher Institute YouTube channel
Sam Sokol
Sam Sokol

A former Israeli Air Force officer indicted of espionage in the United States for his role in the Pollard Affair is set to be promoted to the reserve rank of Brigadier General, the Israeli army announced on Wednesday.

Col. (res.) Aviem Sella, 75, a former pilot who served as the Israeli Air Force’s Director of Operations in the early 1980s, was responsible for Israel’s initial contact with Jewish-American intelligence analyst Jonathan Pollard. Sella introduced Pollard to his Mossad recruiter, former Mossad agent Rafi Eitan, in the early 1980s while he was studying in New York, and was his handler for several months.

Sella was subsequently indicted in absentia on charges of espionage but did not face trial because the Israeli government declined to extradite him to the United States. His subsequent assignment to command an Air Base near the central city Rehovot caused significant tensions between Washington and Jerusalem, with American officials ordered to cease all dealings with the base while Sella was in charge.

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Sella's appointment as commander of the airbase had been announced only a day before Pollard was sentenced to life imprisonment for spying for Israel.

In a bid to defuse tensions, Sella resigned from his position in 1987, stating that he wanted to help preserve good relations between the governments of Israel and the United States and not to harm relations with the American Jewish community.

Sella was one of several Jewish-Americans pardoned by former President Donald Trump in January 2021.

In a series of Hebrew tweets on Wednesday, the IDF stated that Sella would receive his promotion in a ceremony attended by Chief of Staff Aviv Kochavi at army headquarters in Tel Aviv, following a recommendation by commander of the Israeli Air Force, Amikam Norkin.

Sella would have attained the rank of Brigadier General had he stayed in the service, the IDF tweeted, stating that he had “decided on his own initiative and out of national responsibility, to resign.”

JTA contributed to this report.

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