Convicted spy Jonathan Pollard was released from prison early Friday, culminating an extraordinary espionage case that was a sore spot in American-Israeli relations for 30 years.
Now that he’s been released, some Pollard supporters want him to flee for Israel right away.
Pollard’s release from a federal prison in Butner, North Carolina came nearly 30 years to the day after his arrest for providing large amounts of classified U.S. government information to Israel.
“The people of Israel welcome the release of Jonathan A. Pollard,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a statement. “As someone who raised Jonathan’s case for years with successive American presidents, I had long hoped this day would come,” he said.
“I have waited for this day for 30 long years, unbelievable,” Anne, his ex-wife told Army Radio. “It’s an amazing moment.” Army Radio is a radio station in Israel.
Pollard had been granted parole this summer from a life sentence imposed in 1987. The terms of his parole require him to remain in the United States for at least five years, though supporters — including Netanyahu and some members of Congress — are seeking for him to move to Israel immediately.
His release caps one of the most high-profile spy sagas in modern American history, a case that over the years sharply divided public opinion and became a diplomatic sticking point. Critics, including government officials, derided him as a traitor who sold out his country, while supporters have long maintained that he was punished excessively for his actions.
“I don’t think there’s any doubt that the crime merited a life sentence, given the amount of damage that Mr. Pollard did to the United States government,” said Joseph diGenova, who prosecuted the case as U.S. attorney in Washington, D.C. “I would have been perfectly pleased if he had spent the rest of his life in jail.”
Pollard, a former Navy intelligence analyst, was arrested on Nov. 21, 1985, after trying unsuccessfully to gain asylum at the Israeli Embassy in Washington. He had earlier drawn the suspicion of a supervisor for handling large amounts of classified materials unrelated to his official duties.
U.S. officials have said Pollard, over a series of months and for a salary, provided intelligence summaries and huge quantities of classified documents to Israel. He pleaded guilty in 1986 to conspiracy to commit espionage and was given a life sentence a year later.
Though he has said his guilty plea was coerced, he has also expressed regret.
“There is nothing good that came as a result of my actions,” he said. “I tried to serve two countries at the same time. That does not work.”
Under sentencing rules in place at the time of his crime, he became presumptively eligible for parole in November — 30 years after his arrest. The Justice Department agreed not to oppose parole at a July hearing that took into account his behavior in prison and likelihood to commit future crimes.
Israel, which after initially claiming that he was part of a rogue operation, acknowledged Pollard in the 1990s as one of their spies and granted him citizenship.
Pollard’s lawyers also have sought permission for him to travel immediately to Israel, and two Democratic members of Congress — Eliot Engel and Jerrold Nadler, both of New York — have called on the Justice Department to grant the request so that Pollard can live with his family and “resume his life there.”
The Associated Press contributed to this article