A former Navy intelligence analyst who spent 30 years behind bars for selling U.S. military secrets to Israel, arrived in Israel on Wednesday where he and his wife were granted citizenship by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Jonathan Pollard, 66, triumphantly kissed the ground as he disembarked from the aircraft after it landed in Ben Gurion International airport near Tel Aviv.
“We are ecstatic to be home at last after 35 years,” Pollard said as he and his wife Esther were greeted by Netanyahu. The Israeli leader presented them with Israeli ID cards, granting them citizenship.
“You’re home,” Netanyahu said, reciting a Hebrew blessing of thanks. “What a moment. What a moment.”
Pollard thanked Netanyahu and the Jewish people for supporting him. “We hope to become productive citizens as soon and as quickly as possible and to get on with our lives here,” he said.
Pollard, a civilian intelligence analyst for the U.S. Navy, sold military secrets to Israel while working at the Pentagon in the 1980s. He was arrested in 1985 after trying unsuccessfully to gain asylum at the Israeli Embassy in Washington and pleaded guilty. The espionage affair embarrassed Israel and strained relations with the United States for years.
Despite the damage he caused, Pollard was warmly embraced by Israel’s nationalist politicians. Israeli President Reuven Rivlin welcomed him in a tweet, and lawmakers from Netanyahu’s Likud party and its allies tweeted congratulations and greetings to the Pollards, who left from the airport for an undisclosed location.
Pollard was given a life sentence and U.S. defense and intelligence officials consistently argued against his release. But after serving 30 years in federal prison, he was released on Nov. 20, 2015, and placed on a five-year parole period that ended in November. That cleared the way for him to leave the U.S.
Pollard’s arrival was first reported by Israel Hayom, a newspaper owned by American casino magnate Sheldon Adelson. The newspaper published photos of Pollard and his wife, both wearing masks, on what it said was a private plane that arrived early Wednesday from Newark, N.J. It said the private flight was necessary due to the medical needs of Esther Pollard.
The Ynet website said the couple was in quarantine, which is mandatory for all returning Israelis as a measure to guard against the spread of the coronavirus. The country has barred the arrival of all tourists but appeared to be welcoming the couple as Israelis.
Pollard’s release was the latest in a long line of diplomatic gifts given to Netanyahu by President Donald Trump. His arrival in Israel gives the embattled Netanyahu, one of Trump’s closest allies on the international stage, a welcome boost as he fights for reelection in March 23 parliamentary elections.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.