Jonathan Pollard, a U.S. citizen who was sentenced to life in 1987 for passing classified documents to Israel, will be released on Nov. 21 after serving 30 years in prison, the U.S. Parole Commission ruled on Tuesday.
The timing of the announcement sparks rumors that Pollard’s release is tied to the Iran deal. Yet White House officials have denied any connection, stating, ““There is absolutely zero linkage between Mr. Pollard’s status and foreign policy considerations.”
Oddly enough, anonymous U.S. officials contradict that assertion having told The Wall Street Journal last week that the Obama administration was planning to release Pollard as a ploy to convince Israel to quell its criticism and efforts to crush the Iran deal.
Israel has consistently put pressure on the U.S. to release the Israeli spy, but the American government has time and time again defiantly put its foot down — until now.
The U.S.’s strong determination to keep Pollard behind bars for decades raises suspicions that his release is only happening now to mend frayed ties between the U.S. and Israel. Pollard has always been a sore spot in the allies’ relationship, but with relations having reached an ultimate low (Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu uniting with Republicans against Democratic president Barack Obama and the Israeli-condemned Iran deal), the U.S. might see now as the appropriate time to quiet Israel on Iran and ease tensions.
Yet despite the release being a not-so-subtle attempt at dissuading Israeli and Jewish efforts to kill the Iran deal, Israelis are unlikely to back down.
Instead the move is seen as a “power play”, as Haaretz put it, instead of a merciful gesture on the U.S.’s part — and Israelis insist they see right through it.
“It’s an attempt to use his release, it seems, to advance other issues that don’t have to do with it, like the agreement with Iran,” said Nahman Shai an opposition MP and chairman of the Knesset lobby. “It’s a wretched thought. It doesn’t take into account that you can’t buy the Israeli public with these tools. That won’t work. Israelis understand — they know it’s not connected.”
Oded Eran, a senior research fellow at Tel Aviv University’s Institute for National Security Studies and a former senior official in Israel’s Foreign Ministry, noted that Pollard’s release just doesn’t hold enough political ground anymore to make an impact.
“Regarding influencing relations between the U.S. and Israel — whether the personal relationship or the formal relationship between the two states — Pollard as an asset already lost his value,” Eran said. “He might have had influence in that sense 10 or 15 years ago. After 30 years in the American prison, he has no significance in the relations.”
While Israelis might view the decision as simply power play by the U.S., the real pawn in this political chess game is the U.S. government, who is desperately catering to the Israel lobbying group American Israel Public Affairs Committee — who hold significant weight with American Jewish voters. U.S. lawmakers are consistently puppets of AIPAC and Pollard's release is no exception.
Pollard is expected to be met with a hero’s welcome to Israel. He was granted Israeli citizenship in 1995 and is eager to emigrate to the country. However, under the terms of his parole, Pollard must stay in the U.S. for five years after his release.