Convicted U.S. spy Jonathan Pollard arrives in Israel, to a welcome from Netanyahu
Jonathan Pollard, who spent 30 years in prison for spying on the U.S. for Israel, arrived in Israel early Wednesday with his wife, culminating a decades-long espionage scandal that long strained relations between Washington and one of its closest allies.
“We are ecstatic to be home at last after 35 years,” Pollard said as he was greeted at Israel’s international airport by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The Israeli leader jubilantly presented Pollard and his wife, Esther, with Israeli ID cards, granting them citizenship.
“You’re home,” Netanyahu said, reciting a Hebrew blessing of thanks. “What a moment. What a moment.”
Pollard arrived on a private plane provided by American casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, a billionaire supporter.
Pollard, 66, and his wife walked slowly down the steps as they exited the aircraft. Pollard got on his knees and kissed the ground as his wife put her hand on his back, with Netanyahu standing by in the early-morning darkness. Esther Pollard, who is battling cancer, then kissed the ground and was helped up by her husband.
Pollard thanked Netanyahu and the Israeli people for supporting him. “We hope to become productive citizens as soon and as quickly as possible and to get on with our lives here,” he said.
As recently as last year, the Obama administration seemed willing to treat Jonathan J.
Pollard, a civilian intelligence analyst for the U.S. Navy, sold military secrets to Israel while working at the Pentagon in the 1980s. He was arrested in 1985 after trying unsuccessfully to gain asylum in the Israeli Embassy in Washington and pleaded guilty.
The affair embarrassed Israel and tarnished its relations with the United States for years.
Despite the diplomatic damage, Pollard was warmly embraced by Israel’s nationalist politicians. Israeli President Reuven Rivlin welcomed him in a tweet, and lawmakers from Netanyahu’s Likud party and its allies tweeted congratulations and greetings to the Pollards, who left from the airport for an undisclosed location.
“There is no Israeli who didn’t feel excited this morning to see Pollard’s landing in Israel and the moment he kissed the country’s earth, which he had dreamed of for 35 years,” Israeli Transportation Minister Miri Regev, a close ally of Netanyahu, wrote on Twitter.
Pollard was given a life sentence, and U.S. defense and intelligence officials consistently argued against his release. But after serving 30 years in federal prison, he was released Nov. 20, 2015, and placed on a five-year parole period that ended last month. That cleared the way for him to leave the U.S.
Pollard’s arrival was first reported by Israel Hayom, a newspaper owned by Adelson. The newspaper published photos of Pollard and his wife, both wearing masks, on what it said was a private plane that arrived early Wednesday from Newark, N.J. It said the private flight was necessary because of Esther Pollard’s medical needs. The newspaper’s editor, Boaz Bismuth, called it “the most exciting day” of his four-decade journalism career.
Photographs of the plane with the Pollards matched the color scheme of aircraft owned by the Las Vegas Sands Corp., the hotel and casino company owned by Adelson. Flight-tracking data showed that a Boeing 737 owned by the company left Newark for Ben-Gurion International Airport outside of Tel Aviv.
Effi Lahav, head of an activist group that had campaigned for Pollard’s release from prison, said Pollard’s journey “was secret since we realized it’s better to be discreet” about his relocation from the U.S.
Israeli officials welcomed the release Friday of former U.S. intelligence analyst Jonathan Pollard, who spent half his life in prison after being convicted of spying on the U.S. for Israel.
“We have no interest in defying anyone, for sure not ... the United States,” Lahav said. He called Pollard’s arrival “very moving and very historic” and a moment that his organization “waited for, wished for and prayed for and acted for throughout all these years.”
The Ynet website said the couple was in quarantine, which is mandatory for all returning Israelis as a measure to guard against the spread of the coronavirus. The country has barred the arrival of all tourists, but appeared to be welcoming the couple as Israelis.
Pollard’s release was the latest in a long line of diplomatic gifts given to Netanyahu by Trump. His arrival in Israel gives the embattled Netanyahu a welcome boost as he fights to stay in power in a March 23 election.
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