JERUSALEM (AP) – Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Saturday welcomed the lifting of conditional release restrictions on Jonathan Pollard, the former US Navy analyst convicted of spying for Israel in the 1980s, and said ‘he expected him to come to Israel soon.
In a statement released on Saturday night, Netanyahu said he had worked for Pollard’s release for many years. He did not provide a firm date by which Pollard could arrive.
“The prime minister expects to see Jonathan Pollard soon in Israel and, along with all Israelis, sends his best wishes to him and his wife Esther,” Netanyahu’s office said.
The US Department of Justice announced Friday that Pollard had completed his parole, freeing him to settle in Israel. Defenders have said that has long been Pollard’s wish.
Pollard, a civilian intelligence analyst for the US Navy, sold military secrets to Israel while working at the Pentagon in the 1980s. He was arrested in 1985 after an unsuccessful attempt to seek asylum at the Israeli Embassy in Washington and pleaded guilty. The espionage affair has embarrassed Israel and tarnished its relations with the United States for years.
Pollard was sentenced to life imprisonment, and U.S. defense and intelligence officials have consistently opposed Pollard’s release. But after serving 30 years in federal prison, he was released on November 20, 2015 and released on parole.
At the time, his lawyers said he would be forced to stay in the United States for five years, although they called on then-President Barack Obama to grant him clemency and allow him to immediately settle in Israel. But the White House quickly dismissed the prospect, saying Pollard had committed “very serious crimes.”
Friday’s decision marked the latest in a series of gestures by the outgoing Trump administration against Netanyahu’s radical government.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo this week became the first senior US official to visit an Israeli settlement in the West Bank and announced that settlement products exported to the US could be labeled as “made in Israel”. The Trump administration has also recognized disputed Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and released a Middle East plan that heavily favors Israel.
Israel granted Pollard citizenship in 1995, and Netanyahu had previously attempted to bring him to Israel in diplomatic negotiations. In his statement, Netanyahu thanked his Ambassador to the United States, Ron Dermer, for holding talks with the US government.
In a statement on Friday, the United States Parole Board said it had terminated Pollard’s parole after five years after finding “no evidence to conclude that he was likely to violate the law”.
His lawyer, Eliot Lauer, said Pollard’s parole conditions for the past five years included a curfew and a wrist monitor that tracked his whereabouts, as well as restrictions on where he could work. .
“We are grateful and delighted that our client is finally free from all restrictions and is now a free man in all respects. We are looking forward to seeing our client in Israel, ”Lauer said.