Former Israeli spy in US arrives in Tel Aviv, greeted with prayer and passport

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Jerusalem (Reuters) – A former US Navy analyst who served 30 years in prison for spying for Israel arrived in the country early on Wednesday after parole restrictions on his travel expired and was welcomed with a prayer and passport by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Jonathan Pollard, 66, had long voiced a desire to emigrate to Israel, which granted him citizenship. The espionage affair strained US-Israel relations for decades.

Sentenced in 1987 to life imprisonment after he pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit espionage, Pollard was freed on parole in 2015.

A US Justice Department decision last month to let the parole terms’ five-year travel ban go unrenewed was seen by some as a parting gift to Israel by the Trump administration.

Netanyahu met Pollard and his wife Esther as they disembarked in Tel Aviv, video distributed by the Israeli prime minister’s office showed. The couple, both Orthodox Jews, kissed the tarmac.

After saying a Hebrew prayer of thanksgiving for the liberation of prisoners, Netanyahu presented Pollard with an Israeli passport. “Welcome home,” the prime minister said.

Israel Hayom newspaper, which first reported the couple’s arrival, said they flew in aboard a private plane due to Esther Pollard’s medical condition.