Ayalon Visit 'Disappoints' Pollard

Herb Keinon - The Jerusalem Post - May 18, 2005

Jonathan Pollard described his first meeting with an Israeli ambassador since being arrested 20 years ago as "disappointing," his lawyer in Israel said Tuesday night.

According to Larry Dub, who spoke to Pollard's wife Esther immediately after the 90-minute meeting, Pollard said that he was disappointed that Ambassador to the US Danny Ayalon didn't bring with him any "initiative or plan of action" to bring him home.

Ayalon and Pollard were joined at the Butner Federal Prison in North Carolina by Esther Pollard and Rabbi Pessah Lerner.

According to Dub, Pollard said that while Ayalon was "a pleasant man whom he was happy to meet," he came with "the same empty promises."

Ayalon, embroiled in a bitter brouhaha with Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom that is threatening his tenure in Washington, told Pollard this would not be their last meeting.

He told reporters after the meeting that he passed on a message of support from Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and assurances that Israel was doing all it could to win his freedom.

"This is not dependent on us," Ayalon said. "It is a very sensitive and complicated issue, but after 20 years he should be released as a humanitarian act."

Pollard, a former US naval intelligence official, was sentenced to life imprisonment for transferring information to Israel.

Government sources in Jerusalem said the significance of the visit was that it took place.

"This type of visit is an indication that for the first time Israel really is making a move to do something for Pollard," one senior government official said. Pollard was arrested in 1985.

Asked what has taken Israel so long, the official said: "It is all a matter of timing. In relations between countries, you have to know when to do things, when it will ensure success."

He said raising the profile of Israel's interest in freeing Pollard was linked to the disengagement plan, which the US wants to see succeed, and which it believes has the potential to go a long way toward changing the Middle East.

"There is a great deal riding on disengagement, for us and for the US," he said. "In conjunction with the benefits the US stands to gain from this, this may be the right opportunity to press the US to free him."

Others, such as Dub, view the connection between the meeting and disengagement from a different angle. "There are many who believe that Pollard is one of the trump cards the Americans are dangling in front of Israel to complete the disengagement plan," Dub said.

Likewise, he said, Sharon was using Pollard - and the prospects that he may be freed - as a way of softening up right-wing opposition to the plan.

Dub said the US had come to the conclusion, after having imprisoned Pollard for 20 years, that it didn't care about the case anymore and was looking for guidance from Israel on whether "to cut him loose."

He argued that there were people in Israel decidedly uninterested in seeing Pollard get out of jail, because of what he could reveal and who he could embarrass once released.

"There are people who don't want him here because he knows too much," Dub said.

"Nobody in this country believes that with our special relationship with the US, we couldn't get him released after 20 years," he said, noting that Israeli agents were released in a matter of days, weeks or months from Jordan, Cyprus, New Zealand and Switzerland.

Esther Pollard, meanwhile, accused Sharon of conducting a public-relations campaign with no intention of actually pressing for her husband's release.

She told Channel 1 that Sharon's aim was to give the impression of boosting the campaign for Pollard's release, but in reality, his statements were only words with no actions behind them. She added that when Sharon was determined to bring about the release of Elhanan Tannenbaum and Azzam Azzam, he made it happen.

Esther also criticized Sharon for not allowing the press to cover the visit.

As a result of previous legal action in Israel, Pollard was granted citizenship in 1996 and later officially recognized as an Israeli agent.

Last week, Pollard petitioned the High Court of Justice demanding that he be recognized as a Prisoner of Zion, a move aimed at putting more pressure on the government to secure his release.

Zalman Shoval, who served as ambassador to the US in 1993, and then again from 1998 to 2000, said the decision to dispatch Ayalon to see Pollard was made a few weeks ago. He said that previous ambassadors had wanted to visit, but were discouraged from doing so by Jerusalem.

Shoval said that while a number of MKs and cabinet members had visited Pollard, the significance of Ayalon's visit was that it was an indication that not only various individuals, but the Israeli government and the prime minister himself, were taking a keen interest in the case.

According to Shoval, former US president Bill Clinton promised to free Pollard a few weeks before the Wye River talks in October 1998, then backed down at the talks themselves after coming under heavy opposition from the US intelligence community, represented by then CIA head George Tenet.

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