“This is a very serious incident, in which the immunity and privileges granted to foreign missions in Israel was cynically exploited in order to smuggle dozens of weapons…”
By: Anna Ahronheim; Jerusalem Post – jpost.com
Two French Embassy workers along with five Palestinians have been indicted on charges of smuggling dozens of weapons from the Hamas-run Gaza Strip to the West Bank.
The Shin Bet (Internal Security Agency) cleared for release on Monday that 24-year-old French citizen Romain Franck, who worked as a driver in the French Consulate in East Jerusalem, was part of a cell which smuggled 70 pistols and 2 assault rifles through the Erez crossing on the Israel-Gaza border on five different occasions.
He is accused of using his diplomatic vehicle to avoid security checks at the Erez border crossing as well as using another vehicle with diplomatic plates – a Citroen which was for his personal use – to drive through the Kalandiya checkpoint to get from Jerusalem to Ramallah.
Franck was charged with importing, trading, carrying, transporting and possession of weapons, as well as with fraudulently obtaining benefits under aggravated circumstances.
“The consulate employee has smuggled weapons on several occasions in recent months, taking advantage of the consular vehicle of the French Consulate, which has facilitated the security check at the border crossing, as is customary for these vehicles,” read a statement released by the Shin Bet.
According to the Shin Bet investigation, Franck received the weapons from a Palestinian resident of the Gaza Strip employed at the French Cultural Center in the Gaza Strip, and then transferred them to a cell in the West Bank that sold them to arms dealers.
The investigation clearly showed that Franck was acting in return for financial gain, of his own volition and without the knowledge of his superiors.
According to the indictment, Franck received $700 for smuggling five or six guns, and another estimated NIS 10,500 to smuggle 17 guns and a rifle.
The investigation also found that several Palestinians arrested in relation to the case were also involved in the smuggling of money from Gaza to the West Bank.
“This is a very serious incident, in which the immunity and privileges granted to foreign missions in Israel was cynically exploited in order to smuggle dozens of weapons that may be used for terrorist attacks against Israeli civilians and security forces,” a senior Shin Bet source said.
The Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories, Maj.-Gen. Yoav “Poly” Mordechai called the matter a “grave incident of cynical and never-ending exploitation of humanitarian aid and international aid by the terrorist infrastructure.”
Mordechai called for a stricter policy for granting permits to enter and leave Israel and the Palestinian territories as “the international bodies are required to carry out internal inspections to ensure aid goes to the residents of Gaza and not to terror.”
FRENCH LAWMAKER Meyer Habib, who represents French nationals living in Israel, the West Bank and Gaza, noted that it wasn’t the first time that the French Consulate in Jerusalem has been involved in “problematic affairs.”
Habib pointed out several incidents, including one in 2013 when a French Consulate employee was detained after attempting to use an official vehicle to smuggle a large amount of gold, tobacco and checks into Israel from Jordan.
“This is without referring to the shameful UNESCO vote on the Temple Mount or [the fact] that mail sent from the consulate to French citizens says ‘Jerusalem-Palestinian Territories,’” he added.
“For shame – even if it is a junior staff member, I have a feeling that, unfortunately, the consulate has actually become the French Embassy to the Palestinian Authority,” he said.
In addition to Franck, a resident of east Jerusalem who worked as a security guard at the French consulate in Jerusalem, as well as several Palestinians from the Gaza Strip who were living in the West Bank illegally, were arrested and indicted.
The Shin Bet investigation was conducted in coordination with the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and the Shin Bet was in constant contact with the French authorities.
The French embassy issued a statement saying it is taking the incident “very seriously,” and is cooperating with the Israeli authorities.
The statement added that Franck was receiving “full consular protection and visits from our embassy staff in Tel Aviv, including the ambassador herself.” According to the statement, French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian has ordered an “immediate administrative investigation” into the matter, and conclusions will be drawn “that will allow the staff of the Consulate General to continue their important work under the best conditions under difficult circumstances.”
Diplomatic sources in Jerusalem characterized the incident as “very difficult,” and said that Israel views it with the utmost gravity.
Despite all this, the sources said that relations with France are “excellent,” and that this will not negatively impact on them. They thanked the French authorities for their cooperation in the matter.
Construction Minister Yoav Galant, meanwhile, posted a tweet saying that the arms smuggling was a deed of “double treachery – against Israel and France.”
“Israel needs to expel the French citizens to their country where they will be tried there as terrorists,” he wrote.