Israeli 'Spy' Released After 15 Years in Egyptian Prison

Israel says Ouda Tarabin was released after completing his sentence, while Egypt maintains he was released as part of a prisoner swap.

A file photo of Deputy Minister Ayoub Kara meeting with the Tarabin family in 2011, with an inset photo of Ouda Tarabin.
Eliyahu Hershkovitz

Ouda Tarabin, the Israeli Bedouin citizen who was imprisoned in Egypt for 15 years after being convicted of spying for Israel, completed his sentence and was returned to Israel on Thursday morning, reported the Prime Minister's Office.

At the same time, two Egyptian citizens who were imprisoned in Israel were released. Israel said it will release another four Egyptian prisoners, according to a statement by the Prime Minister's Office. One of the Egyptian prisoners completed his sentence and the other three were in the process of being pardoned. According to the statement, the four were convicted of criminal-related charges. They are slated to be released next week and transferred to the Egyptian authorities. 

Israeli officials said Tarabin was released because he had completed his sentence, while Egyptian authorities were reported as saying his release was part of a prisoner swap.

Egyptian television reported Thursday morning that the Egyptian had succeeded in having two Egyptian citizens imprisoned in Israel released as part of a deal in which it released "Israeli spy" Tarabin. The Egyptian announcement said Tarabin has completed serving his 15-year sentence.  

The Egyptian government is also expecting the release of other Egyptian citizens held in Israel in the near future, said the report.

Tarabin met with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu upon his return. The prime minister congratulated Tarabin and told him "Welcome home. We held lengthy talks with the Egyptians for years, and we're happy to see you with us now. I said that we'll get you back here and this is what has happened. Now you can start over again." Tarabin thanked Netanyahu for the efforts made to return him and said that he felt he was in a dream. 

Tarabin was born in 1981 in the Sinai. After Israel withdrew from the Sinai, his parents moved to Israel and received Israeli citizenship. Tarabin was arrested in Egypt in 2000 when he illegally crossed the border into Sinai in order to visit his sister, and he was sentenced to 15 years in prison for passing on military secrets and revealing information to Israel in .

Egypt only informed Israel of Tarabin's arrest in 2004 when his father hired lawyers and the Israeli embassy in Cairo then began searching for him. In December 2004 the Egyptians confirmed they were holding him. Since 2004 Tarabin has been kept in isolation in the Lyman Tora Prison near Cairo. Tarabin sent letters to his family and lawyers, in both Hebrew and Arabic, asking to take all possible action to help him.

Embassy officials in Cairo visited Tarabin regularly in prison in recent years, and senior Israeli officials brought up his  case and a request for his release every time there was a possibility of a prisoner exchange between the two countries. Officials raised his case several times with former President Hosni Mubarak and other officials of the previous regime, but with no result.

Tarabin's family claimed the Israeli government was not doing enough to secure his release, as opposed to cases in which soldiers and other prisoners were released, such the cases of Gilad Shalit  and Elhanan Tannenbaum.

Barak Ravid contributed to this report.