Netanyahu

Bibi Netanyahu

U.S. officials are reportedly ready to release a Jewish-American spy who sold state secrets to Israel in 1985, in an effort to smooth tensions over the Iran nuclear deal.

News that Jonathan Pollard’s prison term my be over sent shockwaves through Washington, D.C. where military and intelligence chiefs have been staunchly opposed to freedom.

Surveillance video frame of Pollard in the act of stealing classified documents

Surveillance video frame of Pollard in the act of stealing classified documents

The Pentagon sees Pollard as a traitor who copied reams of highly classified intelligence from his U.S. Naval Intelligence office and sold it to Israeli operatives for tens of thousands of dollars.

Successive Israeli leaders, most recently Benjamin Netanyahu and Shimon Peres, have pushed for Pollard’s early release, after granting him an Israeli passport in 1995. Israel officially apologised for its role in the affair in 1987, when he was jailed, but only admitted to paying for the information ten years later.

Now, U.S. officials have been quoted in the Washington Post as preparing to release the spy when he becomes eligible for parole in November, which has angered Langley, where successive CIA chiefs have threatened to resign if he is set free.

FILE - In this Friday, May 15, 1998 file photo, Jonathan Pollard speaks during an interview in a conference room at the Federal Correction Institution in Butner, N.C. Israeli leaders say that after 27 years the time has come for the former navy analyst to be freed. Pollard was a civilian intelligence analyst for the U.S. Navy when he was arrested by FBI agents in Washington in 1985. He pleaded guilty to passing secrets to Israel and received a life sentence. (AP Photo/Karl DeBlaker, File)

Jonathan Pollard

Pollard, now 60, said he was motivated by concerns for Israel’s security, but this argument has been dismissed as a sham, with evidence that he tried to sell information to South America and Pakistan alongside arms deals in Argentina, Taiwan and Iran.

At his trial, it emerged that, when questioned, he called his wife and used the codeword “cactus,” at which point she removed a suitcase full of classified material from their apartment. She was subsequently jailed for three years, while he pleaded guilty and was given a life sentence.

U.S. officials have denied any decision on Pollard’s release would be related to diplomatic fall-out from the nuclear deal with Iran, with National Security Council spokeswoman Alistair Baskey saying there was “absolutely zero linkage”.

However, his freedom would be a public-relations boon to Benjamin Netanyahu, who is under fire at home for antagonising the White House in March and for failing to stop world powers agreeing a nuclear deal with Iran earlier this month.

“Like all of Israel, I will be very happy if he is released,” said Noam Shalit, father of former Hamas hostage Gilad Shalit. “I can’t speak to international relations…But on the human level, I’d say it’s about time.”