According to the Wall Street Journal, the Obama administration is preparing to release convicted Israeli spy Jonathan Pollard in a move it hopes will help “smooth relations” with Israel in the wake of the Iran nuclear deal.
As Tom Nichols points out, this is almost certainly inaccurate. There is simply no way Israel would be placated by the release of Pollard—nor do any serious people believe that it could be. Releasing one Jew (most Pollard advocates concede his guilt but argue that the severity of his sentence is too harsh) and putting the lives of millions of other Jews in danger—in perpetuity, once Iran has nuclear weapons—isn’t the kind of trade any serious leader would ever contemplate. Tying the release of Pollard to the Iran deal probably puts Israel in awkward position. It probably puts many Jews, who are constantly, either explicitly or implicitly, being accused of having duel loyalties in awkward position.
I don’t think the #Pollard release is to placate Israel. It’s to placate Americans, Jews or not, who support Israel, using cheap symbolism.
— Tom Nichols (@RadioFreeTom) July 24, 2015
It is far more likely that releasing Pollard is for the benefit of American Jews, in particular Democrats (but I repeat myself), many of whom must have deep misgivings about a nuclear Iran. There is already a concerted effort to pressure Israel supporters on the Left into supporting the deal.
As Politico recently reported, Jewish Democrats in the House are expected to be among the most heavily lobbied members by the administration. John Kerry actually told the Council on Foreign Relations today that if Congress rejects the nuclear deal with Iran, Israel would be more isolated and “more blamed by the international community.” And while it might be wishful thinking, Republicans are already looking at Florida with some renewed hope.
Now it should be mentioned that Pollard is up for parole this November anyway. He’s served 30 years of his life sentence, and any decision about parole will be made by the U.S. Parole Commission. Obviously, that decision would be helped if administration officials were in favor of his release. And the timing would be always be suspicious.
As Hot Air has pointed out, John Kerry has already tried to use Pollard as a bargaining chip for Israeli compliance in the West Bank. A strategy that, predictably enough, failed:
In return for the release [of Pollard], the people close to the talks said, Israel would have to undertake significant concessions to the Palestinians in Middle East negotiations. Such concessions could include some kind of freeze on Israeli settlements in disputed territory, the release of Palestinian prisoners beyond those Israel has already agreed to free, and a guarantee that Israel would stay at the negotiating table beyond an end-of-April deadline.
Benjamin Netanyahu, like every other prime minister before him, has personally pressed the United States to release Pollard. That’s to be expected. They all, like many pro-Israel politicians, argue that friendly nations spy on each other all the time and that Pollard’s sentence was heavy. This does cause a perspective problem. But is there any evidence that Obama is concerned about “smoothing relations with Israel?”
After two terms of distancing, isolating, and berating Israel more than any other ally (or maybe more than other nation, period), why would he suddenly care now, as his second term is winding down, what Israel thinks? It’s more likely that pressure from donor groups, constituents, and Democrats in Congress precipitated this move. When you think about it like that, Jonathan Pollard’s release, should it happen, may well have far more to do with Hillary Clinton than the Knesset.