Former US spy Jonathan Pollard arrives in Israel

Jonathan Pollard, a former US Navy analyst who served three decades in prison for leaking thousands of classified documents to Israel, has arrived in Tel Aviv after being released from parole.

Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, greeted Pollard and his wife, Esther, as they walked down the steps from a private jet, footage distributed by the prime minister’s office showed.

The couple, both Orthodox Jews, removed their masks and kissed the ground before greeting Netanyahu.

“We are ecstatic to be home at last after 35 years,” said Pollard, who was born in the US but was granted Israeli citizenship during his imprisonment. “No one could be prouder of this country or this leader than we are.”

After saying a Hebrew prayer of thanksgiving for the liberation of prisoners, Netanyahu presented Pollard, 66, with Israeli identification documents.

“Welcome home,” the prime minister said.

Having been arrested by FBI agents in 1985 after unsuccessfully seeking refuge at the Israeli embassy in Washington, Pollard was sentenced to life in prison in 1987.

The initial shock between the US and its close ally, and Pollard’s continued imprisonment, has long strained relations between the two countries.

Netanyahu has pushed for Pollard’s release for decades. During the leader’s first term in the late 1990s, Pollard was granted Israeli citizenship. However, repeated previous attempts to persuade US presidents to grant Pollard clemency have failed.

Pollard’s release from parole last month was the latest in a series of gestures by the departing Trump administration towards Netanyahu’s government.

In a phone call last month, Netanyahu said to Pollard: “When are we going to see you here? We’re waiting for you.”

Pollard’s lawyer, Eliot Lauer, told the Times of Israel that his arrival was “a dream realised after 35 very difficult years”.

The couple are expected to enter several days of quarantine, which is compulsory for all returning Israelis as a measure to guard against the spread of coronavirus.