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Israel promotes military handler of agent who spied on U.S.

September 1, 2021 GMT

JERUSALEM (AP) — Israel is granting a promotion to the handler of an agent who spied on the United States, more than 30 years after the episode strained U.S.-Israel ties and less than a year after the handler was pardoned by former President Donald Trump.

Ex-air force officer Aviem Sella, who handled former spy Jonathan Pollard, will be promoted to the rank of brigadier general, the army said in a statement Wednesday. The army chief of staff and Defense Minister Benny Gantz approved the move.

Trump granted a full pardon to Sella on the president’s final day in office earlier this year. Sella was the Israeli military’s U.S.-based handler for Pollard, a former Navy intelligence analyst who sold military secrets to Israel while working at the Pentagon in the 1980s. The Pollard case severely strained relations between Israel and the U.S.

Sella enlisted Pollard to spy for Israel, then fled the United States after Pollard was arrested in 1985. Sella was charged in absentia on three espionage counts, but was not extradited to the U.S. from Israel. He was officially discharged from service in 1992.

Pollard spent 30 years in U.S. prison for spying for Israel. He was released on parole in 2015. In December 2020, he immigrated to Israel and was welcomed on the tarmac by then-Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.