Israel Reawakens Interest In Jailed Spy

December 14, 1997 - Naomi Segal - JTA

Signaling a possible policy shift, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has sent a message to jailed spy Jonathan Pollard expressing hope for his imminent release.

The message will be conveyed by Communications Minister Limor Livnat, who was scheduled to see Pollard on Tuesday during a three-day visit to the United States.

Her visit to the federal prison in Butner, N.C., where the former U.S. Navy civilian intelligence analyst is serving a life sentence for spying for Israel, comes several weeks after Absorption Minister Yuli Edelstein became the first Israeli minister to visit Pollard in jail.

Prior to her departure, Livnat said it was time the Israeli government took a more active stand in pressing for Pollard's release.

Last week, the Knesset passed a motion calling for his release.

Netanyahu's letter conveyed similar sentiments.

"All Israelis are concerned about your continued suffering, particularly after you expressed profound remorse for your actions.

"I sincerely hope that our continued efforts on your behalf will bear fruit, and that you will be a free man in the near future,'' Israel Radio quoted Netanyahu's letter as saying.

Livnat, who will reportedly be accompanied by members of the Israeli media during her visit, was also said to be carrying messages from Finance Minister Ya'acov Ne'eman and Labor and Social Affairs Minister Eliyahu Yishai.

Pollard was arrested in 1985 outside the Israeli Embassy in Washington. He pleaded guilty in 1986 to stealing secrets for the Israeli government and in 1987 was sentenced to life imprisonment.

Netanyahu recently denied that he had abandoned Pollard's cause, adding that he had raised the matter three times in discussions with President Clinton.

Clinton rejected a clemency plea from Pollard in July 1996, citing the gravity of his crime, his lack of remorse and the damage he caused to American security.

Pollard was granted Israeli citizenship in 1996, a move he had hoped would bolster his chances for release.

In the past, Israeli leaders have disassociated themselves from Pollard, maintaining that he passed on information during the 1980s without official Israeli sanction.

Pollard has petitioned Israel's High Court of Justice to compel the government to recognize him as an agent who acted for the state.

In a related development, the Israeli daily Ha'aretz reported that around the time of Pollard's arrest, a major in the Israeli army reserves was arrested on suspicion of working as a spy on behalf of the CIA office operating out of the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv.

The man, identified as Yosef Amit, was detained by the Shin Bet domestic security service in March 1986. He was convicted of spying in 1987 and sentenced to 12 years in prison, of which he served seven.

Though one of Amit's operators, the CIA official responsible for counter-terrorism, was also exposed, Ha'aretz reported that the national unity government of the time, headed by Yitzhak Shamir and Shimon Peres, opted not to focus on the exposed CIA operative in order to negotiate a deal for Pollard release.

The reasoning for the decision was attributed to concern that the threat of exposure might be counter-productive and further strain ties between Israel and the United States.