Jonathan Pollard, a US citizen jailed for 30 years after being convicted of spying in one of the most dramatic espionage cases of the cold war, is expected to fly to Israel after being released from parole.
The Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, welcomed the lifting of travel restrictions, his office said in a statement on Saturday, 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,” the statement said.
The US justice department on Friday announced Pollard’s parole would not be renewed, freeing the former spy from strict restrictions that have kept him in the country since he left jail five years ago.
Pollard’s lawyer, Eliot Lauer, also suggested his client would soon depart for Israel: “We are grateful and delighted that our client is finally free of any restrictions, and is now a free man in all respects. We look forward to seeing our client in Israel.”
Having been arrested by FBI agents in 1985 after unsuccessfully seeking refuge at the Israeli embassy in Washington, Pollard was sentenced to life in prison in 1987. He had pleaded guilty to handing thousands of classified documents to Israel.
The initial shock between the US and its close ally, and Pollard’s continuing imprisonment, has long strained relations between the two countries.
Pollard’s release was the latest in a series of gestures by the departing Trump administration towards Netanyahu’s government.
This week the US secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, became the first top US diplomat to officially visit an Israeli settlement in the West Bank. He later declared that products from settlements – considered illegal under international law – could be labelled “Made in Israel”, despite being made in the occupied Palestinian territories.
Netanyahu has long pushed for Pollard’s release. During the longtime leader’s first term in the late 1990s, Pollard was granted Israeli citizenship. Netanyahu later made a personal plea to allow him to attend his father’s funeral. The US denied that request. Repeated attempts to persuade US presidents to grant him clemency have failed.
In his statement on Saturday, Netanyahu thanked his ambassador to the US, Ron Dermer, for “responsibly and sensitively leading the contacts with the [Trump] administration”.