A French employee of France’s Consulate in Jerusalem is under arrest for allegedly smuggling dozens of weapons from the Gaza Strip to the West Bank, Israel’s domestic security agency said Monday.
The Shin Bet said the man, identified as Romain Franck, 23, was part of a broader Palestinian smuggling ring. It said he used his consular vehicle, which is subjected to more lenient security checks, to transport the weapons through Israel’s tightly secured border with the Gaza Strip. It said he took part in the ring for financial gain and that his employer was unaware of his actions.
The French Embassy in Israel issued a statement confirming that a consulate employee had been arrested, saying it was treating the incident with “great importance,” but wouldn’t discuss the case itself. The embassy said it was in contact with Israeli authorities and the suspect’s family, and was opening an internal investigation into the matter.
The Shin Bet said Franck, who was arrested in February, confessed to the charges. A previous gag order on the case was lifted Monday, when Israel charged Franck with conspiracy to commit a crime and multiple weapons offenses, among other counts.
“This is a very serious incident in which the privileges and immunity granted to foreign missions in Israel were cynically exploited to smuggle dozens of weapons that could be used in terror attacks,” the Shin Bet statement said.
The Shin Bet said Franck transferred a total of 70 handguns and two assault rifles on five occasions over recent months. It said he received the arms from a Gaza man employed at the French cultural center in Gaza and brought them to someone in the West Bank, where they were then sold to arms dealers.
The French Foreign Ministry said the arrested employee, a member of the consulate’s “technical staff,” was detained by Israeli authorities “under serious charges related to alleged trafficking in arms.”
The ongoing internal investigation is aimed at “drawing all the conclusions to allow our Consulate General’s members to pursue in the best conditions their important mission in a difficult context,” ministry spokeswoman Agnes Von Der Muhll said.
The French ambassador and other embassy officials have visited the consular employee and “we’re making sure that all the rights of our compatriot are well respected,” she said.
According to the indictment, Franck was a driver for the consulate and would ferry diplomatic staff between Gaza and Jerusalem. He would transport the arms in packages or suitcases in the trunk of the consular car and lie to Israeli security guards at the Gaza border crossing when asked if he was carrying any weapons. The indictment said Franck earned thousands of dollars for moving the guns.
Israeli officials believe that consular immunity would not apply in this case.
The Shin Bet sent reporters a picture of what it said was the consular vehicle, a silver SUV. It was not clear from the photo whether the vehicle carried the white license plates of the consular corps.
Nine people, including Franck, were arrested, the Shin Bet said. Among the suspects is a Palestinian security guard at the French Consulate in Jerusalem.
The Shin Bet said French authorities were kept aware of developments on the case during the investigation.
Israel has previously accused Palestinians employed by the U.N. or non-governmental organizations of participating in hostile activities, including collaborating with Gaza’s militant Hamas rulers. But allegations against international staffers are rare.
JERUSALEM — A French national working for his country’s consulate in Jerusalem appeared in an Israeli court on Monday on charges that he smuggled weapons from the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip in a diplomatic vehicle.
The consulate employee, identified by Israeli authorities as Romain Franck, is accused of smuggling the weapons out of Gaza on at least five occasions and transferring them to a criminal Palestinian ring. The gang is alleged to have sold the weapons for thousands of dollars to arms dealers in the occupied West Bank.
Franck, who French media said is 23 or 24 years old, is suspected of having transferred about 70 pistols and two assault rifles in return for roughly $7,500.
The indictment describes in detail the five times that he was allegedly involved in transferring “nylon-wrapped” packages of guns from Gaza to the West Bank cell. It said he was a driver with the French Consulate and took advantage of his access to consular vehicles — which are subject to less stringent security checks — to carry as many as 20 guns at a time through the Erez crossing into Israel and on to Jerusalem.
The indictment says he would then head to the West Bank city of Ramallah, passing through an Israeli checkpoint along the way, to meet members of the Palestinian cell and hand over the weapons.
Franck also allegedly involved another French Consulate employee, who worked as a security guard, in the criminal enterprise. That individual, an Israeli Arab resident of East Jerusalem, was indicted Monday on similar charges.
“The investigation clearly shows that the employee of the French Consulate acted for financial gain, on his own initiative and without the knowledge of his superiors,” Israel’s internal security agency said in a statement, referring to Franck.
“This is a very grave incident in which the immunity and privileges granted to foreign missions in Israel were cynically exploited to smuggle dozens of weapons that may be used for terrorist attacks against Israeli civilians and security forces,” said the agency, known as Shin Bet.
A spokesman for the French Embassy in Tel Aviv said, “We take this case very seriously and are in very close contact with the Israeli authorities on this case.” The spokesman’s name could not be published under ground rules for briefing news media.
Franck has been held by Israeli authorities since Feb. 15, the indictment says. Seven other people, including his colleague from the consulate, also were arrested in relation to the smuggling ring.
The crossing between Israel and Gaza is permanently on high alert, and Gaza has been subject to tight restrictions on movement and trade since the militant Islamist group Hamas took control of the enclave in 2007. Since then, Israel and Hamas — which has been designated a terrorist organization by Israel, the United States and the European Union — have fought three wars.
Tensions have increased along the border in recent weeks, with Israel accusing Hamas of sending civilians to protest along its border fence. Gaza residents have held regular protests near the barrier since President Trump recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in December. Several protesters have been fatally shot by Israeli security forces.
Rocket fire from Gaza also increased in the wake of Trump’s announcement, although it has since died down.
On Sunday, the Israeli military said it destroyed a Hamas tunnel built to enable the group’s fighters to infiltrate Israeli territory. On Thursday, the military said two explosive devices were detonated near troops on a routine patrol. Last month, four Israeli soldiers were injured when a bomb went off next to the border fence.
“We are seeing Hamas instigate riots, calling on its civilians to march toward the fence and engage with our troops,” Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus, an army spokesman, said Thursday in a news briefing. “We are seeing a pattern here, and we will not allow it to become standard operating procedure.”
Correction: An earlier version of this report incorrectly characterized Israel’s Shin Bet security service as alleging that Romain Franck was acting on behalf of Hamas.