Old and busted: Israel should thank us for this Iran deal! New hotness: This’ll cool their anger over our sellout to Iran:
— John Tabin (@johntabin) July 24, 2015
Rumors of this began to pop up earlier in the week when someone noticed that a release date had been added to Jonathan Pollard’s prison listing, which turned out to be his next parole hearing date. Coincidence, or a prophecy? The Wall Street Journal’s Devlin Barrett reports that the White House will try to release the long-held Israeli spy in an attempt to appease our ally:
The Obama administration is preparing to release convicted Israeli spy Jonathan Pollard,according to U.S. officials, some of whom hope the move will smooth relations with Israel in the wake of the Iran nuclear deal.
Such a move would end a decades-long fight over Mr. Pollard, who was arrested on charges of spying for Israel in 1985 and later sentenced to life in prison. The case has long been a source of tension between the U.S. and Israel, which has argued that a life sentence for spying on behalf of a close U.S. partner is too harsh. For decades, Israel has sought Mr. Pollard’s early release only to be rejected by the U.S.
Now, some U.S. officials are pushing for Mr. Pollard’s release in a matter of weeks. Others expect it could take months, possibly until his parole consideration date in November. Some U.S. officials strongly denied Friday there was any link between the Iran deal and Mr. Pollard’s prospective release, saying that any release decision would be made by the U.S. Parole Commission.
That’s true, but it’s almost certainly within the administration’s power to get Pollard out if they so choose. The federal government has argued vehemently for the continued imprisonment of Pollard as a national-security issue, despite pressure from Israel to get him out. If the Obama administration suddenly begins to argue that Pollard poses no risk and should be released, the Parole Commission would certainly take note of that reversal, and would likely respond positively after nearly 30 years.
It’s a measure of the desperation of the Obama administration that this has come up now. The Israelis demanded Pollard’s release two years ago when the US got caught spying on its allies, arguing that his continued detention was hypocritical after the Edward Snowden exposures. The US declined to change its mind at that time. A year later, a trial balloon floated out about using Pollard as leverage to get Benjamin Netanyahu to bend a little more in the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, but those weren’t going anywhere regardless. Jeff Dunetz noted at the time that John Kerry had to be desperate to use Pollard as leverage.
This position is even worse than the last. What would Pollard’s release buy the White House? A momentary bump in Israeli popular opinion, but even that would be limited by the exceedingly crass appeasement and desperation that such action would display. Israel isn’t going to warm up to the Iran deal because we release Jonathan Pollard, and it’s not going to benefit anyone in Israel more than Netanyahu, whose hardball tactics with Obama will have finally paid off in some way.
Of course, the real audience for this may not be Israel, but Congress. Members of the House and Senate will be getting a full-court press on the Iran deal from Israel supporters in the US, and lobbyists working directly or indirectly for Israel. The Obama administration will paint itself as a friend to Israel, but may have little evidence for that claim. The Pollard release will be aimed at impressing people like Chuck Schumer and Ben Cardin, among others, but it’s really an easily recognized non-sequitur. Maybe it’ll give them enough political cover to shrug off opposition to the deal, but if that’s true, any excuse would be good enough. And how much will a potential release in November matter to a vote in September? That may stretch “trust us” to the breaking point.
I’m agnostic on Pollard’s continued detention, which as Jeff explained last year is mostly attributable to Pollard himself. I doubt that Pollard did even a fraction of the damage Bradley/Chelsea Manning committed, and Manning only got 35 years — and will get paroled earlier than at 28 years, almost certainly. If our national security is enhanced by Pollard staying in prison, then he should stay there, but if not we’ll have to let him go at some point. But if the White House thinks this will rescue their chestnuts on this Iran deal from the Israeli fire, they’re even more clueless than we imagined.