The unusual move to promote Col. Aviem Sela after such a long time was approved after President Trump had pardoned him for his role in the Pollard affair.
By Batya Jerenberg, World Israel News
IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kochavi has decided to promote Jonathan Pollard’s handler to Brigadier General almost three decades after he left the army in the wake of the infamous spying affair, Channel 13 reported Wednesday.
Air Force Col. Aviem Sela fled the United States when the American Jewish navy analyst who passed secret military documents through him to Israel was caught in 1985. In a March interview with Israel Hayom, Pollard said that through his ex-fire Ann, he had warned Sela that he was about to be arrested, which gave him enough time to leave the country.
Although Pollard’s Israeli handlers were granted immunity from prosecution in exchange for cooperating with the U.S. courts, his role was unknown at the time and Israel chose not to reveal it. When the Americans found out, Sela was charged in abstentia on three counts of espionage for recruiting Pollard, which carried a maximum sentence of life imprisonment and a $500,000 fine.
Since the Israeli-American extradition treaty did not cover espionage, Israel refused to send Sela to the U.S. to stand trial. Moreover, the IDF kept the decorated pilot in his job in the air force.
This is not the first time Sela will receive a general’s star. In 1987 he was was made Brigadier General when given command of the Tel Nof Airbase. When the Americans threatened to cut funding to Israel and have nothing to do with the base if he stayed, he resigned his commission before actually receiving the promotion in order to defuse the tensions.
On his last day in office, former president Donald Trump pardoned Sela. The accompanying announcement said that the State of Israel had requested the pardon and had issued a full and unequivocal apology for his part in the espionage affair.
Pollard eventually served a 30-year sentence for his actions. He was freed from prison in 2015 and released from restrictive parole conditions five years later, allowing him to move to Israel with his wife Esther.
Sela was a fighter pilot during the Six-Day War in 1967, the War of Attrition and the 1973 Yom Kippur War. He rose in the ranks to eventually serve as the Air Force’s Director of Operations, and he commanded Operation Opera, the airstrike against the Iraqi Osirak nuclear reactor in 1981.
Sela’s promotion was approved by Defense Minister Benny Gantz.