The Foreign Ministry on Monday denounced “very serious” charges of arms smuggling by a French consulate worker in Jerusalem but said the incident would not compromise diplomatic ties between the two countries, as the allegations of weapons trafficking were confirmed by Israeli authorities.
The Shin Bet security service named the suspect in the case as Romain Franck. He is accused of using an official car to smuggle dozens of guns from the Gaza Strip to the West Bank.
Franck, in his mid-20s, had taken advantage of reduced security checks for consular vehicles to transport the weapons out of the Palestinian enclave, the agency said.
Franck made five smuggling runs, bringing 70 pistols and two assault rifles to the West Bank from a Palestinian employee at the French Cultural Center in Gaza, the Shin Bet said. Frank’s contact in the West Bank then sold the weapons to other arms dealers.
The Shin Bet said Franck was motivated by financial gain. It said his superiors at the French consulate in Jerusalem were unaware of his actions.
Nine people were arrested in the case, including an East Jerusalem resident employed at the French consulate in Jerusalem and Palestinians from Gaza who were illegally residing in the West Bank, according to the Shin Bet.
Six of those arrested are set to be indicted later Monday.
Details of the case were under a gag order until Monday. The information was released days before French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian was set to visit Israel.
“This is a very grave incident in which the immunity and privileges granted to foreign missions in Israel was cynically exploited for smuggling,” a Shin Bet official said, adding the weapons could have been used in attacks on civilians and security forces.
Echoing the Shin Bet, the Foreign Ministry said “this is a very serious incident which we are treating severely.”
It also thanked French authorities for cooperating with the investigation.
“The ties with France are excellent and the affair doesn’t adversely affect them,” the Foreign Ministry stressed.
A spokesman for France’s embassy in Israel said on Sunday that “we take this case very seriously and are in close contact with the Israeli authorities.”
Franck “has benefited and continues to enjoy the consular protection” provided to French nationals, he said.
According to the Le Monde daily, France won’t block prosecution, but Franck may serve his sentence in France and not Israel.
AFP contributed to this report.