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Imprisoned spy Jonathan Pollard flying to Israel after US parole ends

Cold War spy passed on information about American intelligence agencies to Israel
Jonathan Pollard spent 30 years in prison for spying for Israel (AFP)

The spy Jonathan Pollard, who was jailed for spying against the United States in the 1980s, has been cleared to fly to Israel, where he will be welcomed by the government. 

A US-born Israeli, Pollard was sentenced to life in prison in 1987 for passing secret US intelligence on Arab and Pakistani weapons to his other homeland, while he was serving as a civil intelligence analyst.

He was imprisoned for 30 years but had restrictions on his travel removed this week. 

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Reuben Rivlin both responded with statements welcoming Pollard, saying they had been working for his release. 

"Over the years we have shared in Jonathan Pollard's pain, and felt a responsibility and commitment to bring about his release. Now we will be able to welcome him and his family home," said Rivlin.

Pollard's lawyer, Eliot Lauer, told Israeli channel Arutz Sheva that Pollard and his wife planned to migrate to Israel, where he was given Israeli citizenship in 1995 during Netanyahu's first term as prime minister.

Pollard had been under parole since being freed in 2015.

He was convicted in 1987, during the Cold War, for using his position in US Navy intelligence to hand over information about American intelligence efforts. 

Netanyahu, who has long lobbied for Pollard's release, welcomed the lifting of travel restrictions, adding that he had "consistently worked towards securing Pollard's release".

"The prime minister hopes to see Jonathan Pollard in Israel soon, and together with all Israelis, extends his best wishes to him and his wife Esther," a statement by his office on Saturday said.

Netanyahu also thanked his ambassador to the US, Ron Dermer, for "responsibly and sensitively leading the contacts with the [Trump] administration".

In Israel, Pollard has become some sort of celebrity, with individuals like Noam Shalit, the father of former Hamas hostage Gilad Shalit, saying: "I can only say that like all of Israel I will be very happy if he is released... I can't speak to international relations... but on the human level, I'd say it's about time.”

Classified information

Having joined the US Navy, Pollard eventually received sufficient security clearance to access top secret and sensitive compartmented information.

Pollard made contact in June 1984 with an Israeli colonel, Aviem Sella, who was pursuing graduate studies at New York University, and offered to provide him with classified information. 

He soon began supplying a stream of intelligence to the Israelis, reportedly thousands of documents. 

Pollard is also alleged to have passed classified information to South Africa, and to have given his then wife documents on China for use in her personal business.

Washington later accused Pollard of causing considerable harm to US interests during the Cold War, although the full scope of his case has never been publicly disclosed. 

He claimed only to have passed information vital to Israel's security that had been withheld by the Americans, but security experts feared the information might have ended up in the hands of the Soviet Union, at the time Washington's arch rival.