PM To Pollard: We'll Work Tirelessly To Bring You Home

May 17, 1998 - Hillel Kuttler - The Jerusalem Post

WASHINGTON - Cabinet secretary Dan Naveh met Friday with Israeli spy Jonathan Pollard, handing him a letter from Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu saying that "you are not alone" and pledging that Israel "will go on working tirelessly and dauntlessly to bring you home." Pollard thanked Naveh and Netanyahu, as well as ministers and Knesset members "who made it possible for this development to occur." "I know it was a very hard process. It was a hard decision that was made. But I think it was a principled decision that brings honor to the entire state, not just to the government," Pollard said at the Federal Correctional Institution in Butner, North Carolina, where he is serving a life sentence.

He was referring to his months-long negotiations with the government for public accountability in his case, which were accelerated by a High Court of Justice order that Israel declare if Pollard was an agent it recruited when he worked at the US Department of the Navy. The cabinet issued a declaration last week to that effect. Pollard had maintained that such an acknowledgment was necessary if the US was ever to take seriously Israel's requests to commute his sentence. He also said that years from now, the ministers' visits will be seen to have played a critical role in obtaining his release. "The government's decision with regard to recognizing my status, I think, lays the foundation for an equitable resolution of the affair through political means," Pollard said, after acknowledging he had no legal recourse open.

Naveh, who heads the cabinet committee on Pollard, is in effect the most senior Israeli official to ever meet with Pollard. Four ministers have flown to Butner in the past five months, beginning with Absorption Minister Yuli Edelstein. Naveh and Pollard hugged at the start of their meeting and Naveh later gave Pollard a kiddush cup. "I hope the day when you will be able to say the kiddush in Israel will be soon," Naveh said to Pollard.

For the first time, Pollard granted interviews to Israeli media during a visit by an Israeli official. While two representatives of the Washington-based Israeli media have alternately sat in on the ministers' meetings in the penitentiary, Pollard had until now refused to answer the reporters' questions.

*(Justice for Jonathan Pollard Note : The Navy has complete control over the possibility of interviews with Jonathan Pollard. Pollard's willingness to be interviewed is irrelevant in the face of the dire consequences he faces if he interviews without the Navy's written permission. Four days after Israel clarified Jonathan's status as its agent, the Navy for the first time allowed him to give short interviews after the Naveh visit. All the networks had to sign security forms. CNN was the only network to refuse and was therefore not permitted to speak to Pollard.)

He and Naveh also met, with no reporters present, for an hour. In an expansive interview, Pollard told the reporters he was "extremely pleased" to have met with Netanyahu's top aide, saying Naveh was "very constructive and generally prepared" to carry out "the government's recent initiative and to bring me home."

In a meeting with Finance Minister Yaakov Neeman in March, Pollard was critical of the Naveh panel because, as he stated Friday, "at the time, things were going much slower than I had hoped that they would." But Pollard said he has since become more sensitive to the complexity of the government's handling of his case, and "the more I learned about what Danny was doing ... the more respect I had for what he was able to do."

"A person in my situation, as you can imagine, wants to come home immediately, and sometimes we lose patience" he said. "I can assure you that the confidence that I had in Danny before was justified and it was proven a few days ago. I am convinced, based on what Danny told me, that the government understands very well what needs to be done right now ... to get this done."

Pollard again took responsibility for illegally passing intelligence to Israel and expressed contrition for what he had done, saying he had no excuses. He said he hoped the government's landmark decision to recognize him as an Israeli agent is "acknowledged and appreciated and reciprocated" by those circles in the American government that want to see his case resolved. Naveh laid out for him "a very decisive and relentless campaign" planned to secure his release, Pollard said. Naveh later told Israeli reporters it is too early to know whether Israel's new approach would prove effective.

Asked in the interview whether, in retrospect, his spying hurt Israel's security, Pollard said: "I don't think that anything I did helped Israel. The decision that I took was a wrong decision. What happened to me at the time was that my fears got the better of me - my fear for Israel's security. And instead of acting on those fears in a more appropriate and legal manner, by perhaps bringing my concerns to the attention of people in the House and Senate intelligence committees, I felt I had to do something personal. Whatever good I might have done for Israel I don't believe justified the kind of act I took."

Pollard said he did not damage American security interests "at all" because "I was very careful in what I did to limit whatever damage to the bare minimum. "What I can say on this matter is that "However motivated I may have been, my actions simply couldn't then and can't now be justified," he said.