UPDATE: 4:40 a.m. EST -- Jonathan Pollard, the U.S. national convicted in 1987 of spying for Israel, was released early Friday, after having spent 30 years behind bars in an American Federal Prison.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu welcomed his release in a statement released Friday. “The people of Israel welcome the release of Jonathan Pollard. After three long and hard decades Jonathan is finally reunited with his family. I wish this Sabbath will give Jonathan happiness and peace that will continue for life,” Netanyahu reportedly said.
Jonathan Pollard, an American national convicted of spying for Israel in 1987, will walk out of U.S. federal prison Friday. However, Pollard, now 61, will not be allowed to leave the country without permission or move to Israel, as he has requested.
Pollard’s release comes after decades of fierce lobbying by Israeli officials, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and supporters. Pollard’s arrest in 1985, and his subsequent conviction, has consistently strained the otherwise close ties between the U.S. and Israel -- which American President Barack Obama referred to as “one of our closest allies” in the Middle East.
After his release, Pollard is expected to settle in the New York area while he spends at least the next five years on parole. Under federal parole rules, he will be barred from traveling outside the country, including to Israel, without permission. Obama is believed to have denied Netanyahu’s personal request to allow Pollard to move to Israel, where many perceive him as a hero.
“They don’t want to make it look like they were being too lenient,” Joseph diGenova, the former U.S. attorney who prosecuted Pollard, told the New York Times, adding that if he were allowed to go to Israel, there is likely to be a “parade” and “events just rubbing it in the United States’ face.”
Pollard, who was born in Texas and studied at Stanford University, was caught selling American intelligence secrets -- which he gathered during his role as a U.S. Navy analyst -- to Israel. In 1987, he became the only American to be given a life sentence for spying for an ally.
According to reports, documents that Pollard provided Israel included those with details on identities of U.S. agents abroad, potentially putting them at risk. The CIA, in a report made public in 2012, said that Pollard's case “has few parallels among known U.S. espionage cases” and that he had “put at risk important U.S. intelligence and foreign policy interests.”