JERUSALEM (AP) – Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Saturday celebrated the lifting of travel restrictions for Jonathan Pollard, the former U.S. Navy analyst sentenced for spying for Israel in the 1980s, and said he hopes he will soon move to Israel.
In a statement issued Saturday afternoon, Netanyahu recalled that for many years he worked for Pollard’s freedom. He did not offer an exact date when Pollard would arrive in Israel.
“The prime minister hopes to see Jonathan Pollard in Israel soon, and together with all the people of Israel, he sends his best wishes to him and his wife Esther,” the statement from Netanyahu’s office said.
The US Department of Justice announced Friday that Pollard had completed the phase of his parole, freeing him to emigrate to Israel. His lawyers noted that it has been his wish for a long time.
Pollard’s lawyer, Eliot Lauer, told Israeli TV Channel 12 that Pollard “is delighted” to be able to move to Israel, but warned it will take a while because Pollard’s wife is undergoing cancer treatment. The move will most likely occur within a few weeks, the TV station speculated.
Pollard, a civilian intelligence analyst for the United States Navy, sold military secrets to Israel while working at the Pentagon in the 1980s. He was arrested in 1985 after unsuccessfully trying to obtain asylum at the Israeli Embassy in Washington and was pleaded guilty. The espionage case was an embarrassment to Israel and for years affected relations with the United States.
Pollard received a life sentence, and US defense and intelligence officials constantly demonstrated against Pollard’s release. But after spending 30 years in federal prison, he was released on November 20, 2015 on parole.
At the time, his lawyers said that he would be obliged to stay in the United States for five years, although they urged then-President Barack Obama to grant him clemency and permission to move to Israel immediately. However, the White House quickly dismissed that possibility, arguing that Pollard had committed “very serious crimes.”
US authorities recently lifted travel restrictions on Pollard.