Israel officially recognizes Pollard as its agent

May 12, 1998 - Reuters

Israel on Monday officially recognized Jonathan Pollard, an American Jew jailed in the United States for spying for Israel, as its agent -- 13 years after he was denied sanctuary in its Washington embassy.

Israeli government sources said they hoped the move would make it easier for Israel to negotiate with the United States for the early release of the former U.S. Navy intelligence analyst, who is serving a life sentence.

"The state has announced that Jonathan Pollard acted as an Israeli agent handled by those serving as senior officials of the Bureau for Scientific Relations (Lekem)," Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's spokesman said in a statement.

The announcement was made a day before Netanyahu was to leave for the United States, where he will hold talks with U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright on the crisis in the Middle East peace process and meet U.S. Jewish leaders and members of Congress.

Pollard embarrassed Israel and American Jews when he was caught in 1985 after passing to the Jewish state information on Arab countries that he said the United States had withheld from its Israeli ally.

Israel originally distanced itself from the spy recruited by Lekem, a bureau in the Defense Ministry that collected scientific material -- sometimes covertly -- from foreign sources, and said he had been part of a rogue operation.

But two years ago, the Israeli government made Pollard a citizen as a public campaign intensified to win him official recognition as an agent.

In a North Carolina prison last year, Pollard told an Israeli cabinet minister that he felt "profound sorrow and remorse" for passing the classified information to Israel. His comments were broadcast on Israel Television.

"My motives may have been well and good but they only served to explain why I did what I did. They certainly do not serve as an excuse for breaking the law," Pollard said.

Pollard and his former wife were turned away from the Israeli Embassy in Washington in 1985 when they tried to elude FBI agents by fleeing into the building. U.S. presidents have three times denied Pollard clemency.

Pollard brought his fight for recognition to Israel's supreme court, which had put off a hearing on his petition to order Netanyahu to admit he was acting on Israel's behalf.

Netanyahu's spokesman said that in response to the decision to recognize Pollard as an Israeli agent, the petition had been dropped.

Cabinet Secretary Danny Naveh will visit Pollard in prison on Friday, the spokesman said.

  • Return to Israeli Court Case page