Jonathan Pollard, a U.S. intelligence analyst who was convicted of spying for Israel in the 1980s and sentenced to life in prison, has been granted parole and will be released in November, according to his lawyers.
The decision marks the resolution of an espionage case that was a source of friction between the United States and Israel for decades, and it comes at a time when the two countries are at odds over a U.S.-backed nuclear accord with Iran.
In a statement issued by his attorneys, Pollard said that he “is looking forward to being reunited with his beloved wife Esther” and expressed thanks to supporters in the United States and Israel.
The U.S. Parole Commission voted unanimously on July 7 to grant parole to the convicted spy, according to the statement from his attorneys, Eliot Lauer and Jacques Semmelman. “We are grateful and delighted that our client will soon be released,” they said.
U.S. officials said that although Pollard was ordered to serve life in prison, the terms of his sentence made him eligible for mandatory parole after 30 years, a period he will have completed this fall.
Pollard, 60, is required by the Parole Commission to remain in the United States for five years after he is freed, and his lawyers indicated in the statement that he has secured housing and employment in the New York area.
But his attorneys called on President Obama to waive that U.S. residency requirement so Pollard can move to Israel as soon as possible.
“We are looking forward to his release,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a statement, which noted that he had spoken Tuesday with Pollard’s wife.
A Jewish American, Pollard was granted Israeli citizenship while in prison and is viewed by many in Israel as a victim of broader political and diplomatic tensions between the United States and its ally.
Israeli leaders have repeatedly called for Pollard’s release and sought to make his freedom a negotiating point in Middle East peace talks as early as the 1990s. The timing of Pollard’s parole has contributed to speculation that the Obama administration cleared his release to appease Israeli officials angered by the recently announced nuclear accord with Iran.
But since news of Pollard’s possible release began to surface last week, White House officials have adamantly denied that diplomatic or political considerations played any role in a decision they said was reached independently by the parole board.
The nuclear agreement negotiated by the United States and five other world powers would require Iran to dismantle much of its nuclear infrastructure and capability in exchange for relief from economic sanctions.
The White House has launched an extensive lobbying effort in Washington and overseas to secure support for the deal, which Netanyahu has denounced as a capitulation that ultimately would not prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.
Pro-Israel groups in the United States have also mounted an intense campaign to persuade members of Congress to block the accord. And Israeli officials have indicated that Pollard’s release is unlikely to soften the nation’s stance against the deal with Iran.
Pollard was arrested in 1985 while working as a civilian analyst for the U.S. Navy, and he pleaded guilty to passing secret documents to the Israeli intelligence service. He has said he was motivated by loyalty to Israel, but he was also paid more than $50,000 and was in line to earn multiples of that amount if his spy work had continued.
A damage assessment by the CIA described Pollard’s espionage career as “short but intensive,” consisting of “biweekly deliveries of classified material,” including suitcases full of sensitive U.S. intelligence files on Arab, Pakistani and Soviet military capabilities.
He came under suspicion in part because of his efforts to gain access to classified material on such subjects despite a job that mainly entailed producing analytic work on North America and the Caribbean, the assessment said.
Fellow students at Stanford University recalled that Pollard had “bragged about his role as a Mossad agent,” according to the CIA report, which said Pollard’s espionage-related “fantasies” continued after he was hired by U.S. naval intelligence in 1979.
Pollard cooperated extensively with U.S. investigators after his guilty plea, providing insight into Israeli espionage programs and priorities.
The case was a major embarrassment to Israel, whose spy services have long been deeply dependent on their U.S. counterparts — but also suspicious enough of U.S. motives in the Middle East to regard the United States as an intelligence target.
The CIA, the FBI and other national security agencies fought off repeated attempts by the Israeli government to secure Pollard’s release. In the 1990s, then-CIA Director George J. Tenet threatened to resign if President Bill Clinton agreed to such a request.
But the intensity of that opposition has waned as Pollard, who is said to have health problems, approaches three decades behind bars. If denied parole, he would have been required to serve an additional 15 years at a federal prison in North Carolina.
Ruth Eglash in Jerusalem contributed to this report.