President Donald Trump on Wednesday granted a full pardon to Aviem Sella, the handler of convicted Israeli spy Jonathan Pollard, as part of the outgoing president’s spree of clemency actions in his last hours in office.
Pollard, a former Navy intelligence analyst, sold military secrets to Israel while working at the Pentagon in the 1980s. Sella, a retired Israeli air force officer, enlisted Pollard to spy for Israel and fled the United States after Pollard was arrested in 1985. Sella was charged in absentia on three espionage counts, but was not extradited to the U.S. from Israel.
Sella, a former fighter pilot, planned the strike on Iraq’s nuclear reactor in 1981, headed the Air Force during the First Lebanon War, and played a major role in many other vital Israeli battles and operations. He began working for the Mossad in the early 1980s and was privy to some of the top-secret documents provided by Pollard.
The Pollard case severely strained relations between Israel and the U.S.
The White House said in a statement that Sella’s request for clemency received backing from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli ambassador in Washington, the American ambassador to Israel, and Miriam Adelson, the widow of Republican megadonor and Trump supporter Sheldon Adelson who died last week.
“The State of Israel has issued a full and unequivocal apology, and has requested the pardon in order to close this unfortunate chapter in U.S.-Israel relations,” the White House said.
Pollard spent 30 years in U.S. prison for spying for Israel. He was released on parole in 2015. Last month, Pollard immigrated to Israel and was welcomed on the tarmac by Netanyahu.
Pollard issued a statement welcoming Sella’s pardon, saying it “puts an end to the bleeding wound of the incident after 35 years.”
One of Pollard’s lawyers, Nitsana Darshan-Leitner, called on Sella to tell the truth about Pollard.
“We are happy about Sella’s pardon, but we hope he will finally tell the truth and enable justice to see light,” she said. “Pollard has been suffering for 35 years from malicious lies and false accusations that Sella could have easily proven untrue. The time has come for Sella to step out of the shadows and tell exactly what he knows about this patriot who suffered for 30 years in an American prison.”
(YWN Israel Desk – Jerusalem & AP)