Convicted US spy Pollard arrives in Israel, welcomed by PM

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Jonathan Pollard, left, and his wife Esther sit inside a private plane provided by American casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, on route to land in Ben Gurion International airport near Tel Aviv, Israel, Wednesday, Dec. 30, 2020. Pollard, who spent 30 years in U.S. prison for spying for Israel, arrived in Israel early Wednesday with his wife, triumphantly kissing the ground as he disembarked from the aircraft in the culmination of a decades-long affair that had long strained relations between the two close allies. (AP Photo/Israel Hayom)

JERUSALEM – Jonathan Pollard, who spent 30 years in U.S. prison for spying for Israel, arrived in Israel early Wednesday with his wife, triumphantly kissing the ground as he disembarked from the aircraft in the culmination of a decades-long affair that had long strained relations between the two close allies.

“We are ecstatic to be home at last after 35 years,” Pollard said as he was greeted at Israel's international airport by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The Israeli leader jubilantly presented Pollard and his wife Esther with Israeli ID cards, granting them citizenship.

“You're home,” Netanyahu said, reciting a Hebrew blessing of thanks. “What a moment. What a moment.”

Pollard arrived on a private plane provided by American casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, a billionaire supporter of both Netanyahu and President Donald Trump.

Pollard, 66, and his wife walked slowly down the steps as they exited from the aircraft. Pollard got on his knees and kissed the ground as his wife put her hand on his back with Netanyahu standing by in the darkness. Esther Pollard, who is battling cancer, then kissed the ground and was helped up by her husband.

Pollard thanked Netanyahu and the Jewish people for supporting him. “We hope to become productive citizens as soon and as quickly as possible and to get on with our lives here,” he said.

Pollard, a civilian intelligence analyst for the U.S. Navy, sold military secrets to Israel while working at the Pentagon in the 1980s. He was arrested in 1985 after trying unsuccessfully to gain asylum at the Israeli Embassy in Washington and pleaded guilty. The espionage affair embarrassed Israel and tarnished its relations with the United States for years.

Despite the damage he caused to relations with the U.S. over the years, Pollard was warmly embraced by Israel's nationalist politicians. Israeli President Reuven Rivlin welcomed him in a tweet, and lawmakers from Netanyahu's Likud party and its allies tweeted congratulations and greetings to the Pollards, who left from the airport for an undisclosed location.