Pollard relieved after Israel finally admits he was its spy

JERUSALEM — Jonathan Pollard has won a battle with Israel, but he is far from winning release from a U.S. federal prison.

Israel this week admitted that Pollard was an agent for the Jewish state at the time he was arrested in Washington in 1985.

Pollard immediately responded to the news, saying from his prison that he was "relieved, thankful and honored" by Israel's move.

Pollard recently petitioned Israel's High Court of Justice to order the government to recognize that he acted as an agent for Israel.

Supporters of Pollard, including several Israeli ministers, believe that the government's admission will make it easier for Israel to ask the United States to release Pollard on humanitarian grounds.

The United States has turned down several requests to free Pollard, and there has been no indication that the administration would change its view.

Pollard, a former U.S. naval intelligence analyst, has been serving a life sentence since 1987 for spying for Israel.

Israeli Cabinet Secretary Danny Naveh was slated to visit Pollard this week in the North Carolina prison where he is being held.

There has been growing momentum among Israeli officials to seek Pollard's release.

Last month, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu recruited his entire Cabinet to sign a request to President Clinton seeking a pardon for Pollard.

Several Cabinet ministers have visited Pollard in recent months and have called for his release.

Pollard was arrested in 1985 outside the Israeli Embassy in Washington. He pleaded guilty in 1986 to stealing secrets for the Israeli government and in 1987 was sentenced to life imprisonment.

Pollard said the Israeli government's move "reassures our people that the state will honor its obligation to protect and defend all who serve it."

Now, he said, it was time for him to "come home" to Israel.