An employee of France’s consulate in Jerusalem is under arrest for allegedly smuggling weapons from the Gaza Strip to the West Bank, according to French media reports, which have been confirmed by Israel.
The consular employee has been identified by the Shin Bet, Israel’s domestic security agency, as Romain Franck, 23. He reportedly worked as a driver at the consulate, a job he managed to secure through a prestigious “international volunteer” program sponsored by the French government. The elite program allows recent French college graduates to gain work experience in various countries around the world. Although he had a relatively junior post at the French consulate, Franck carried a diplomatic passport, which allowed him to move through international borders without being searched, due to his diplomatic immunity privileges.
But, according to French newspaper Liberation, Franck was detained by Shin Bet officers on February 19 of this year, as he was trying to enter Israel from the Gaza Strip at the Erez border crossing. He was driving a car that bears French diplomatic license plates and belongs to the French consulate in Jerusalem. Inside the car, the Shin Bet officers reportedly found pistols and assault rifles. According to Liberation, Franck’s arrest has been kept secret. The Shin Bet admitted that the newspaper’s story was true on Tuesday afternoon. Franck reportedly told his Israeli captors that he had received the weapons from a Palestinian who worked at the French Cultural Center in Gaza. He then transported them over several trips to the West Bank, where other Palestinians picked them up, paid him, and sold them on to others.
Israel has reportedly arrested eight more people in connection with the gun running, all of whom are Palestinians. They include a Palestinian security guard at the French consulate. According to the Shin Bet, Franck was not ideologically or politically allied with Hamas, Fatah, or any other Palestinian group. Instead, he participated in the gun smuggling for financial gain. A spokesman at France’s embassy in Tel Aviv said that Paris was closely monitoring the incident and was “in close contact with the Israeli authorities on the matter”.