The first place in TheMarker's list of the 100 most influential Israelis is empty, filled with a "Leader Wanted" sign.
Traces of the war in Lebanon are highly evident throughout the list, but the choice of the most influential person was made even before the outbreak of hostilities. The crisis in Israel's leadership revealed by the second Lebanon war, the economic uncertainty and the lack of an experienced finance minister, all created a leadership vacuum whose results cannot yet be fully evaluated. But this merely strengthened our choice: "Leader Wanted."
Second place went to Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, the man who sent Israel off to war almost immediately after coming to power. Olmert put himself on the list of Israeli leaders whose terms of office are characterized by drama and drastic changes. We are still waiting to see whether and how he stabilizes the big ship, the state, and its engine, economic growth. It is also impossible to ignore the multitude of affairs involving Olmert that the state comptroller is now reviewing, and which may become criminal investigations.
Nochi Dankner, the man who heads a group that has closed deals worth more than NIS 10 billion over the past year, is in third place. Taking over Cellcom, buying Koor and swallowing Clubmarket whole have made Dankner the Israeli synonym for tycoon. Despite some question marks about his business management, he is without a doubt the most interesting and influential private businessman in Israel. And it is impossible at the current moment not to give positive mention to his huge financial contribution to rehabilitating northern Israel.
Fourth place goes to Yitzhak Tshuva, one of two prominent Israeli businessmen who aggressively entered the awakening insurance sector, both here and in the United States. Along with huge investments in North American real estate, the Netanya tycoon is trying to provide a counterweight to Zadik Bino in the energy sector - both by trying to obtain permits that would enable his Delek Group to buy the Haifa oil refinery, and by buying the Pi Glilot fuel depot. And in the meantime, he is enjoying record profits, and came up roses from a deal that he did not manage to close: the Koor acquisition, which is turning out to be no small headache for rival Nochi Dankner.
Idan Ofer, owner of the Israel Corporation and Mizrahi-Tefahot Bank, is in fifth place. Ofer may hook up with Bino at Paz and storm back into the energy sector. But even if that deal does not go through, the Israel Corporation's cash and power maintain the Ofer family's status as one of the most powerful and influential families in the country.
From the other side of the tracks, Stanley Fischer, governor of the Bank of Israel, is a man whose importance is on the rise. From the heights of sixth place, he represents the International Monetary Fund in Israel and Israel to the IMF. He reminds everyone that even if there are occasional wars here, there is an adult chaperone to make sure that the economy does not go into a tailspin - in the best tradition of relations between Washington and developing nations.
Kobi Haber, head of the Finance Ministry's budget division, is seventh on TheMarker's list. He has become the treasury strongman and has great influence over the economy. Adhering to the budget ceiling, financing the war, rehabilitating the north and thinking long-term about defense spending are all things that will eventually end up on Haber's doorstep. He is the person who will whisper advice to Finance Minister Abraham Hirchson and to Olmert on where to cut, where to add and what not to touch.
In the eighth place is Lev Leviev, the man whose NIS 10 billion market value is not enough, so he plans to double the figure. With the reputation that his Africa Israel company is earning and the huge investments that the property conglomerate plans, he could do it ? causing us all to forget that Leviev also moonlights, and every fifth diamond in the world goes through him.
In ninth place, Zadik Bino not only owns Israel's largest fuel company plus the First International Bank; he also owns an oil refinery, and may soon take Paz public. Bino made a huge leap this year ? in TheMarker's rankings, as well ? to become the most powerful person in the Israeli energy sector, and he will undoubtedly have the most influence on competition in this sector.
In tenth place, we put U.S. President George Bush's Axis of Evil: Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Syrian President Bashar Assad and Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah. Their impact will apparently be mainly on the 2007 state budget ? though this is the optimistic scenario. In the pessimistic version, their footprints on the budget will be much longer-term. And clearly, another war on any of these fronts would have an impact far beyond the budget.
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