Convicted spy for Israel Jonathan Pollard has been granted parole and will be released from an American jail on Nov. 21, his lawyer announced Tuesday.
Pollard’s release – exactly 30 years after his arrest – could help ease the tensions between the United States and Israel that have grown over the Iran nuclear deal, which President Barack Obama supports and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vehemently opposes. Netanyahu has long sought Pollard’s release, and the prospect has surfaced many times in discussions between the U.S. and Israel.
The White House has said it won’t challenge the granting of parole for Pollard but denied his release was in any way connected to the Iran deal.
“Mr. Pollard’s status was determined by the United States Parole Commission according to standard procedures, and the Parole Commission’s decision was in no way linked to foreign policy considerations,” said National Security spokesman Alistair Baskey. “Mr. Pollard will serve his sentence as mandated by statute for the very serious crimes he committed The President has no intention of altering the terms of Mr. Pollard’s parole.”
Both the Justice Department and Pollard’s pro bono attorneys, Eliot Lauer and Jacques Semmelman, confirmed his release date Tuesday.
“Mr. Pollard is looking forward to being reunited with his beloved wife Esther,” his lawyers said in a statement.
“Mr. Pollard would like to thank the many thousands of well-wishers in the United States, in Israel, and throughout the world, who provided grass roots support by attending rallies, sending letters, making phone calls to elected officials, and saying prayers for his welfare. He is deeply appreciative of every gesture, large or small,” his lawyers said. “We look forward to seeing our client on the outside in less than four months.”
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke to Pollard’s wife, Esther, on Tuesday.
“Throughout his time in prison, I consistently raised the issue of his release in my meetings and conversations with the leadership of successive U.S. administrations. We are looking forward to his release,” Netanyahu said in a release.
Esther Pollard welcomed the news of her husband’s release Wednesday.
“I’m relieved and I’m happy that our ordeal is finally coming to an end,” she said. “I can hardly wait, I’m counting the days, the hours, the minutes, the seconds until I can take him into my arms and we can close the door on past behind us and begin to heal and rebuild our lives.”
Pollard, now 60, worked as a Navy intelligence analyst and passed on top-secret U.S. government information to Israel. Israel’s government admitted paying him for the intelligence in 1998. The country granted Pollard citizenship in 1995 and has lobbied for his release for decades.
A number of top U.S. officials have argued against releasing Pollard from his life sentences – including President George W. Bush’s vice president, Dick Cheney, and defense secretary, Donald Rumsfeld.
President Bill Clinton wrote in his autobiography that then-CIA Director George Tenet threatened to quit in 1998 when Clinton appeared to be set to release Pollard.
He’d previously been denied parole after a July 2014 hearing. He had a second hearing before the U.S. Parole Commission on July 7, 2015.