Netanyahu Formally Requests Pollard's Release

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JERUSALEM, Israel - Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu this week became the nation's first premier to issue a formal request for the release of convicted spy Jonathan Pollard.

After more than two decades of backdoor diplomacy to secure Pollard's release, Netanyahu decided the time had come to make the request publicly. He did so by reading his letter to President Barack Obama before the Knesset - and the world - on Tuesday.

"Mr. President, on behalf of the people of Israel, I am writing to you to request clemency for Jonathan Pollard. At the time of his arrest, Jonathan was acting as an agent of the Israeli government," Netanyahu began.

"Even though Israel was in no way directing its intelligence efforts against the United States, its actions were wrong and wholly unacceptable," the letter stated. "Israel will continue to abide by its commitment that such wrongful actions will never be repeated.

"Since Jonathan Pollard has now spent 25 years in prison, I believe that a new request for clemency is highly appropriate," Netanyahu continued. "I know this view is also shared by former senior American officials with knowledge of the case, as well as by numerous members of Congress," he read.

"Jonathan Pollard has reportedly served longer in prison than any person convicted of similar crimes and longer than the period requested by the prosecutors at the time of his plea bargain agreement. Jonathan has suffered greatly for his actions and his health has deteriorated considerably," Netanyahu read.

"I know the United States is a country based on fairness, justice and mercy. For all these reasons, I respectfully ask that you favorably consider this request for clemency. The people of Israel will be eternally grateful," he wrote.

And they will. The vast majority of Israelis want to see Pollard reunited with his wife, Esther, and friends and family in Israel. Most believe he has been a diplomatic pawn in the hands of successive administrations.

Pollard was working as a civilian intelligence analyst for the U.S. Navy when he met an Israeli officer on leave in 1984. The details behind his decision to begin spying for Israel may never be revealed, but it's understood that his efforts may have saved Israeli lives. 

In November 1985, FBI agents arrested Pollard outside the Israeli Embassy in Washington, where he was seeking asylum.

At the time, Israel's chief concern was preserving its relations with the U.S. so the government gave into demands to turn over all the classified documents Pollard had pilfered. Those documents were used to convict and sentence him to life in prison. 

In May 1988, Israel's attorney general issued an official letter acknowledging the country's "obligation" to Pollard, who was granted Israeli citizenship. 

Some observers say, today, President Obama has an unprecedented opportunity to reinstate the trust of the Israeli people - greatly diminished in the first two years of his administration - by granting clemency to Jonathan Pollard. Many are hopeful the president will have the courage to make such a decision.

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