Naama Issachar returns home to Israel after Russian prison release

Russian President Vladimir Putin pardoned her hours before Netanyahu was set to fly from Washington to Moscow on Wednesday to personally bring her home. "It's a good ending," her mother said.

Naama Issachar meets with PM Benjamin Netanyahu after her release, Jan. 30, 2020 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Naama Issachar meets with PM Benjamin Netanyahu after her release, Jan. 30, 2020
(photo credit: Courtesy)
MOSCOW – After a 10-month ordeal in Russian prisons, Naama Issachar arrived at Ben-Gurion Airport with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Thursday evening.
“Naama was very excited,” Netanyahu told journalists on his flight from Moscow. “It’s indescribable. It was the first time she went outside and saw trees, saw the sky.”
The prime minister shared that Issachar’s mother, Yaffa, brought her the classic kids’ snack Bissli and Hashachar chocolate spread, a children’s breakfast staple, on the flight.
Naama Issachar, alongside her mother Yaffa, prepares to return to Israel with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, January 30, 2020  (Photo Credit: Lahav Harkov)Naama Issachar, alongside her mother Yaffa, prepares to return to Israel with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, January 30, 2020 (Photo Credit: Lahav Harkov)
Issachar, 27, was sentenced to 7.5 years in prison in Russia after 9.5 grams of cannabis were found in her suitcase during a stopover in Moscow en route home from a trip to India.
Russian President Vladimir Putin granted Issachar, an American-Israeli, a pardon on Wednesday, hours before Netanyahu took off from Washington to meet with him.
He and National Security Adviser Meir Ben-Shabbat personally took charge of Issachar’s case, together with Jerusalem Affairs Minister Ze’ev Elkin.

The prime minister explained that their major efforts were in part because Issachar’s arrest was a “land mine” that could have developed into dangerous tensions between Israel and Russia, which in turn “could have hurt Israel’s vital interests.”
When there are other cases of Israelis being arrested abroad, the state provides consular services and tries to help, but those cases generally do not have a strategic impact like Issachar’s case could have had, a senior source in Netanyahu’s delegation explained.
The source also said Israel felt partly responsible for Issachar’s harsher-than-normal sentence, positing that it was due to Israel’s positions on other matters in its relations with Russia.
One matter that the source mentioned is the release of Russian tourists who had been detained on suspicion that they were planning to overstay their tourist visa in Israel in order to work. Another matter not mentioned on the prime minister’s plane, but thought to be related, is Israel’s extradition of a Russian hacker to the US late last year.
Russia has done a lot for Israel, the source said, pointing specifically to its role in early 2019 in returning the body of Sgt.-Maj. Zachary Baumel, who had been missing in action since the 1982 Lebanon War. The operation to retrieve his remains took place at risk to Russian soldiers’ lives, the source said.
Putin and Netanyahu mentioned Issachar in remarks to the press ahead of their meeting in the Kremlin.
“You asked us to pardon an Israeli citizen who was arrested with drugs in her bag,” Putin said. “I emphasize the role of her mother and the [Greek Orthodox] Patriarch [Theophilos III of Jerusalem]. Please tell her I wish her and her family well.”
Netanyahu thanked Putin in the name of all Israelis for releasing her.
Earlier this week, a senior Israeli source said Issachar’s release “was a gesture by President Putin to the prime minister. There was no deal with Russia.”
Israel also made gestures toward Russia “to tighten the ties in light of additional issues between the states,” the source said.
One such gesture was made a month ago, when Israel ruled in favor of the pro-Putin side in a dispute between offshoots of the Orthodox Church over who controls the Alexander Courtyard in the Christian Quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem.