Israeli Woman Who Was Jailed in Russia and Pardoned by Putin Lands in Israel

26-year-old Israeli was at the center of a row that 'put our relationship with Russia in jeopardy,' Netanyahu says

Naama Issachar on her way to her home in Rehovot, Israel, January 30, 2020
Ilan Assayag

An Israeli-American woman jailed in Russia over drug charges in a high-profile case landed in Israel on Thursday, ending a months-long saga between the two countries. 

"I just want to say thank you," Naama Issachar, who was pardoned by Russian President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday, told reporters upon landing. "I am still in shock from the whole situation, but I am grateful for everything."

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The prime minister told reporters during the flight to Israel that Israeli officials had taken special interest in her release of Naama Issachar, because there was a danger to strategic relations with Russia.

'Why did we intervene in her case and not others? Because our relationship with Russia is crucial strategically," Netanyahu said, "a military clash in Syria with Russian forces would be a disaster. And there were other issues at hand too, including the barring of Russian tourists from entering Israel and the Burkov affair. This required our intervention," he added.

Issachar's reception at Ben-Gurion International Airport, Israel, January 30, 2020
Moti Milrod

Netanyahu arrived in Moscow Thursday morning, and met with Vladimir Putin, before bringing Issachar back to Israel on the official plane. 

The visit, just over a month before Israel's March 2 election, "signals further rapprochement in our relations," Netanyahu said. He told reporters that he had the opportunity to discuss Donald Trump's Middle East peace proposal, unveiled on Tuesday, with the Russian leader, as well as the situation in Syria. 

Twenty-six-year-old Naama Issachar was sentenced for seven and a half years in prison last year, but was granted pardon on Wednesday by Russian President Vladmir Putin, after serving ten months.

Issachar was arrested in April for drug smuggling after a small amount of hashish was found in her luggage during a layover in a Moscow airport.

According to a senior Israeli official involved in the matter, Israel did not sign a deal with Russia to release Issachar, but rather it was "as a gesture by President Vladimir Putin to Netanyahu."

Putin said Russia and Israel have made progress "on several bilateral issues," without specifying further, adding that he granted Issachar pardon "mostly thanks to her mother, but we must remember she did commit a felony."

From Left: Naama Issachar, her mother Yaffa, Sara and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meet at the airport in Moscow, Russia, January 30, 2020.

Issachar's mother, Yaffa, said while waiting for Israeli Foreign Ministry officials to pick her up to reunite with her daughter that she is "waiting to finally see Naama, put my arms around her. Thank God, and thank you everybody for all you've done."

Bar Peleg and Reuters contributed to this report.