JERUSALEM (AP) — Convicted spy Jonathan Pollard had an escape plan in place for him to flee to Israel but bungled it by seeking asylum at the Israeli Embassy in Washington instead, his former Israeli handler said in an interview aired Monday.
Pollard was a civilian intelligence analyst for the U.S. Navy when he gave Israel thousands of classified documents, the extent of which has never been fully revealed. Pollard, now 60, was arrested in 1985 and later sentenced to life in prison. Several Israeli requests to have him released have been rejected. He will be eligible for parole next year.
It remains one of the most embarrassing and damaging episodes in Israel-American relations and many details of the case remain a mystery nearly 30 years later.
In an interview with Israeli Channel 2 TV's investigative program "Uvda," former Mossad agent Rafi Eitan gave a rare glimpse into the events. Eitan said that once Pollard began to raise suspicions, he gave him the signal for a prearranged escape plan that would get him safely out of the United States.
Instead, Pollard waited three days before arriving unannounced at the Israeli embassy, asking for asylum.
"I got the call that he is waiting at the entrance of the embassy ... and I immediately said 'throw him out.' I don't regret it," he said. "The minute the man decided to come to the embassy .... he decided for himself that he is going to prison."
Eitan argued that giving Pollard refuge in the face of U.S. law enforcement would have created an even greater crisis between the United States and Israel.
Eitan took the heat for the fiasco, saying he acted on his own and resigned as head of an Israeli intelligence agency known as the Scientific Relations Office — which was later disbanded entirely.
In the interview, Eitan hinted that despite denials, Israel's political leadership was fully aware of his actions and that he himself suggested that he "be sacrificed."
"I said I will take all the responsibility on me," he said.