A 24-year-old employee at the French Consulate in Jerusalem admitted that he smuggled dozens of weapons from the Gaza Strip into the West Bank through diplomatic vehicles, the French newspaper Le Figaro reported on Sunday. Israeli security sources have confirmed the existence of the case.
Roman Frank was a driver at the consulate and carried an official passport. He was detained for questioning by Israeli security authorities on February 19. An East Jerusalem resident who worked as a security guard at the consulate was also arrested as well as Gazans who were illegally in the West Bank.
The two will appear in court on Monday, most likely in a Be'er Sheva court, for smuggling weapons from Gaza to the West Bank.
A Shin Bet press release said the French consulate employee was clearly acting out of financial motives, of his own accord and without the knowledge of his superiors and that some of those involved also engaged in smuggling cash from Gaza to the West Bank. A total of nine suspects have been arrested, including six who are due to be indicted, the agency added.
According to the Shin Bet security service, Frank is said to have smuggled in some 70 guns and two rifles. He received the weapons from a Palestinian resident of Gaza who worked at a French cultural center in Gaza, the Shin Bet said, adding that they were then transferred to an individual in the West Bank who sold them to arms dealers.
The Shin Bet also said that the smuggling effort involved Palestinians from Gaza, the West Bank and East Jerusalem and that the Shin Bet investigation has found that the weapons were transferred into Israel by Frank via the Erez border crossing, between Gaza and Israel, using official consular vehicles that weren't as meticulously checked at the border.
The investigation of the French consular employees was carried out in coordination with the Foreign Ministry, which kept the French authorities apprised of developments, the Shin Bet statement said.
The French Embassy issued a statement saying: "The authorities in France are taking the incident in which one if the workers at the consulate general of France in Jerusalem is a suspect with very great seriousness. The authorities in France are cooperating with Israeli authorities."
The case was reported extensively on Sunday in the French press but a gag order was imposed on coverage of it in Israel, even though the relevant agencies in Israel, including the Shin Bet and the Foreign Ministry, had already worked on a press release on matter.
This is not the first time that a security-related case has been banned from publication while it was reported on extensively abroad.
Israeli diplomatic officials called the matter "a very difficult event, which we take very seriously." They added that relations with France are excellent and this will not have an adverse effect, thanking French authorities for their cooperation.
Maj. Gen. Yoav Mordechai, the coordinator of government activities in the territories, said that "This is a serious incident involving cynical and unceasing use by terror infrastructure of international humanitarian assistance channels," adding that the incident "only highlights the need for meticulous and strict policy on the granting of permits.
"International officials need to put their own houses in order to assure that assistance is provided to the residents of Gaza rather than terrorism [from Gaza]. Terrorist organizations in the strip don't abhor any channel, even if it is meant to provide medical or international assistance to exploit their needs. Again and again we see that the good of the population of the Gaza Strip does not interest the terrorist organizations at all," he concluded.
The affair takes place days before French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian is slated to arrive in Israel, amid the backdrop of a potential visit from French President Emmanuel Macron later this fall. This affair may overshadow the visit.