Israel mobile operator Partner cuts last ties with Orange

TEL AVIV (Reuters) - Israeli mobile phone operator Partner Communications cut its final ties with French telecoms group Orange on Tuesday, launching a new brand eight months after a public row between the two companies.

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Partner, which had a license to operate under the name Orange since its inception in 1997, ago, will now use “Partner” as its brand and replaced its orange logo with a turquoise one.

Israel protested to France after Orange Chief Executive Stephane Richard said last June he would terminate the licensing arrangement with Partner “tomorrow morning” if the contracts allowed.

Specifically, the controversy surrounded economic activities in Israeli settlements of the occupied Palestinian territories, which France and the European Union consider illegal. Orange is 25 percent owned by the French government.

Richard later apologized to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and said his comments, made during a visit to Egypt, had been misinterpreted to suggest that he supported an outright boycott of Israel for political reasons.

Partner CEO Isaac Benbenisti declined to say how much Israel’s second-largest mobile operator invested in rebranding, for which it hired branding experts MetaDesign, but said the process was lengthy and expensive.

Along with the new brand Partner also launched a new strategy to evolve from a cellular company into a communications group in which television and content will play a central role.

Partner expects to launch its TV service soon, Benbenisti told a news conference, adding: “We are looking at what content we can bring to be attractive.”

Faced with intense competition in the mobile sector that has led to cut-throat pricing in recent years, Partner swung to a third-quarter loss and the industry now faces consolidation.

Market leader Cellcom also began to reshape itself into a telecoms group after it launched TV services last year and announced plans to buy smaller rival Golan Telecom, a move that faces a tough regulatory battle.

U.S.-Israeli media magnate Haim Saban, whose Saban Capital Group controls Partner, said that despite the challenges facing the industry, he remained committed to Partner.

“We are here for the long term,” Saban said.

Editing by Steven Scheer and David Evans