Jonathan Pollard, who was convicted of spying for Israel in the United States more than 30 years ago, landed in Israel on Wednesday.
Jonathan Pollard, who spent 30 years in a US prison on charges of espionage for Israel, arrived in Israel with his wife as the culmination of a decades-long affair that had long strained relations between the two close allies.
Pollard was greeted at Israel’s International Airport early Wednesday by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who introduced the Texas-born American Jew – who obtained Israeli citizenship in 1995 while in prison – and his wife Esther Israeli ID cards.
“We welcome the return. As you returned home,” Netanyahu said, according to a statement released by his office. He said they could start a new life in Israel “in freedom and happiness”.
“We are delighted to finally be home,” said Pollard, 66.
“No one could be more proud of this country or this leader than us and we hope to become productive citizens as soon as possible and quickly and continue with our lives here,” Pollard added.
Israeli President Reuven Rivlin tweeted: “Welcome home to Jonathan and Esther Pollard!”
Welcome to Jonathan and Esther Pollard!
– Reuven Rivlin (@PresidentRuvi) December 30, 2020
A video released by Netanyahu’s office showed Pollard descending the stairs of the plane and kissing the ground.
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 trying unsuccessfully to seek asylum at the embassy of Israel in Washington, DC, and pleaded guilty. The spy case embarrassed Israel and tarnished its relations with the United States for years.
Sentenced in 1987 to life imprisonment after pleading guilty to conspiracy to commit espionage, Pollard was released on parole in 2015, which ended in November.
This allowed him to leave the United States.
Pollard arrived on a plane owned by billionaire Sheldon Adelson, a staunch supporter of Netanyahu and US President Donald Trump.
The Israel Hayom newspaper, which first reported the couple’s arrival, said they arrived by private plane due to Esther Pollard’s condition.
Pollard’s release was the latest in a long line of diplomatic gifts offered to Netanyahu by Trump. His arrival in Israel gives a welcome boost to besieged Netanyahu as he fights for re-election in the March 23 parliamentary elections.
Netanyahu has been one of Trump’s closest allies on the international stage. In the past four years, Trump has recognized disputed Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and moved the American embassy to the holy city.
In other deviations from traditional American positions, he also acknowledged Israel’s annexation of the Golan Heights, declared that Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank are not illegal, and negotiated a series of normalization agreements between Israel and the Arab countries.