JERUSALEM — Jonathan Pollard, who spent 30 years in U.S. prison for spying for Israel, arrived in Israel early Wednesday with his wife, an Israeli newspaper reported, culminating a decades-long affair that had long strained relations between the two close allies.
Israel Hayom, a newspaper with close ties to both Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the Trump administration, reported Pollard’s arrival. Pollard had previously said it was his dream to move to Israel.
“Finally in the country. Jonathan Pollard landed tonight in Israel,” Israel Hayom headlined, with a picture of him and his wife, both wearing masks, on what it said was a private plane that arrived early Wednesday from Newark, New Jersey. It said the private flight was necessary due to the medical needs of Pollard’s wife Esther, who is undergoing treatments for cancer. The newspaper’s editor, Boaz Bismuth, called it “the most exciting day” of his four-decade journalism career.
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 at the Israeli Embassy in Washington and pleaded guilty. The espionage affair embarrassed Israel and tarnished its relations with the United States for years.
Pollard was given a life sentence and U.S. defense and intelligence officials consistently argued against releasing Pollard. But after serving 30 years in federal prison, he was released on Nov. 20, 2015, and placed on a five-year parole period that ended in November. That cleared the way for him to leave the U.S.
Shortly after his release, Netanyahu phoned Pollard and promised “We’re waiting for you.” He promised the country would provide top-notch medical treatment to Esther Pollard.
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 President Donald Trump. His arrival in Israel gives the embattled Netanyahu a welcome boost as he fights for reelection in March 23 parliamentary elections.
Netanyahu has been one of Trump’s closest allies on the international stage. Over the past four years, Trump has recognized contested Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and moved the U.S. Embassy to the holy city. In other departures from traditional U.S. positions, he also has recognized Israel’s annexation of the Golan Heights, said that Israeli West Bank settlements are not illegal and brokered a series of diplomatic agreements between Israel and Arab nations.