As a favor to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamain Netanyahu and Trump mega-donor Miriam Adelson, the president pardoned Aviem Sella despite his key role in a major diplomatic crisis between the U.S. and Israel.
Sella, a 75-year-old former Israeli Air Force officer, was indicted on three counts of espionage in 1987 for recruiting Pollard, a U.S. Naval Intelligence analyst, and convincing him to hand over state secrets to Israel.
Netanyahu campaigned for Pollard’s release for decades and more recently used him as a political token as he faced growing domestic turbulence. Pollard was released from parole in the U.S. in November after serving 30 years in prison for leaking thousands of classified documents to Israel. He immediately flew to Tel Aviv, where Netanyahu personally greeted him at the airport.
“We are ecstatic to be home at last after 35 years,” said Pollard, who had not previously lived in Israel. “No one could be prouder of this country or this leader than we are.”
The pardoning of Sella gives Netanyahu another political boost on the eve of the resumption of his corruption trial.
Sella’s release was also secured through the support of Trump mega donor, Miriam Adelson, the widow of Sheldon Adelson, who backed up Netanyahu’s urgent request for clemency for the ageing spy. “Mr. Sella’s request for clemency is supported by the Prime Minister of Israel Benjamain Netanyahu, Israeli Ambassador to the United States Ron Dermer, the United States Ambassador to Israel David Friedman, and Miriam Adelson,” according to a statement that accompanied the pardon. “The State of Israel has issued a full and unequivocal apology, and has requested the pardon in order to close this unfortunate chapter in US-Israel relations.”
Sella met Pollard while studying at New York University in the 1980s and fled to Israel when Pollard was taken into custody for espionage. Israel refused to extradite him in a spy saga that has caused tensions between the two allies for more than three decades.
Pollard expressed his pleasure over Sella’s pardon early on Wednesday. “This puts an end to the open wound of the episode after 35 years,” he said in a statement. “After the long years of suffering we ensured, Esther and I want to focus solely on the future and not on the wounds of the past.”
Despite his American indictment, Sella, one of Israel’s most decorated Air Force pilots, enjoyed a successful military career in Israel, having been promoted to brigadier general and commander of the Tel Nof Air Force Base the week he was indicted for espionage in the U.S. The U.S. responded by banning any American delegations from having any dealings with him.