Jonathan Pollard, an American jailed in the United States in 1985 for spying for Israel, landed in the Jewish state on Wednesday to a hero’s welcome led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Pollard, the former US Navy analyst, was arrested in 1985 and given a life sentence after pleading guilty to selling US secrets to Israel. He had been confined to the United States under his parole terms since his 2015 release.
Pollard and his wife, Esther, arrived in Tel Aviv on a private jet owned by Sheldon Adelson, a major backer of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Pollard knelt and kissed the ground and helped his wife, who is currently undergoing cancer treatment, do the same.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu greeted Pollard saying: “You are home”. A visibly emotional Netanyahu then proceeded to hand Pollard his Israeli Identity Card.
“We are ecstatic to be home at last after 35 years,” said Pollard, according to a statement from Netanyahu’s office. “And we thank the people and the Prime Minister of Israel for bringing us home.”
Pollard was arrested for giving Israel hundreds of top-secret documents that he had access to as a U.S. naval intelligence specialist. According to a CIA report, most of the documents dealt with Israel’s Arab adversaries and military support they received from the Soviet Union.
The CIA report concluded that Pollard had “put at risk important U.S. intelligence and foreign policy interests.”
Pollard said he was frustrated by the US withholding key intelligence from its closest ally.
Israel has maintained that Pollard was given a harsher sentence for spying for an ally, Israel, in comparison to others who had spied for the Soviet Union.
His case became a bone of contention between U.S and Israel, especially after he was barred from leaving for Israel upon the completion of his 30-year sentence in 2015.
Leaders from across the political spectrum pushed for him to be allowed to come to Israel.
U.S. Justice Department finally declined to extend his parole in November last year, removing any legal obstacles in his return to Israel.
Pollard and his wife went to a Jerusalem apartment where they will quarantine for two weeks, according to current rules in Israel.