American jailed for spying for Israel to be released

Jonathan Pollard was arrested in 1985 and jailed for life. The case has been a major thorn in US-Israeli relations.
Jonathan Pollard was arrested in 1985 and jailed for life. The case has been a major thorn in US-Israeli relations.PHOTO: REUTERS

WASHINGTON • Former United States Navy intelligence analyst Jonathan Pollard will be released on Nov 21, after serving 30 years in prison for spying for Israel.

The decision, revealed on Tuesday, caps a sensational case that has troubled relations between the US and its closest Middle East ally for more than three decades.

Nov 21 marks the earliest date Pollard could be eligible for parole, but officials insisted the release was not a sop to Israel, still smarting over the Iran nuclear deal.

US Secretary of State John Kerry denied that the release was linked to the July 14 deal, which is supposed to restrain Teheran's nuclear ambitions but which Israel vehemently opposes.

"No, no, no. Truthfully. I haven't even had a conversation with them," Mr Kerry told reporters.

Pollard's lawyers, Mr Eliot Lauer and Mr Jacques Semmelman, also insisted: "The decision is not connected to recent developments in the Middle East.

"The decision to grant parole was made unanimously by the three members of the Parole Commission, who make their decisions independently of any other US government agency."

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu welcomed the news and said he looked forward to the release. "Throughout his time in prison, I consistently raised the issue of his release in my meetings and conversations with the leadership of successive US administrations."

The case has been a major thorn in US-Israeli relations since Pollard was arrested for passing secrets to the Jewish state in 1985.

He pleaded guilty in 1987 to spying for Israel while he worked for US Navy intelligence.

Two years after his arrest in 1985, he was sentenced to life in prison, the only American ever to receive such a heavy sentence for passing classified information to a US ally.

It made him a cause celebre for many Israelis. However, US officials have adamantly opposed clemency until now.

In a jailhouse interview with journalist Wolf Blitzer in 1987, Pollard claimed that he had provided Israel with reconnaissance imagery of the Palestine Liberation Organisation headquarters, intelligence on Libyan air defences and on Arab and Islamic military activities.

US prosecutors alleged he was motivated as much by money as support for the Jewish state, having been paid US$10,000 (S$13,600) in cash, thousands more in jewels and expenses, and a US$2,500 a month salary by Israel.

Had parole been denied, Pollard would have had to serve another 15 years in prison.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 30, 2015, with the headline 'American jailed for spying for Israel to be released'. Print Edition | Subscribe