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In a first public statement on Bank Leumi's reported interest in buying Israel Discount Bank New York, CEO Galia Mor told Ha'aretz yesterday the New York bank would suit its operations in America and South America.

"Discount New York is in line with the focus of our operations in the United States and South America. There is a synergy between the bank and Bank Leumi USA. A merger between the two banks would improve efficiency and cut costs and expenses. There is an opportunity here and we plan to pounce on it, if it turns out to be very interesting," Maor said.

When asked if Leumi is afraid that losing out to Bank Hapoalim on the deal would widen the gap between the two main banks, Maor said: "Six years ago, Bank Leumi set itself a strategic target to be the most profitable bank in Israel. We measure our success in relation to ourselves and in relation to the remainder of the banking system and on both counts we can be satisfied, even though our growth was cut in 2001. Discount New York is an opportunity and we shouldn't miss it, although from an accounting point of view, buying the bank will not lead to a fast jump in profitability.

Maor said Leumi has yet to arrange the structure of its financing for a possible deal, but if the deal is to go ahead, then Leumi has an advantage in its capital adequacy ratio. "There is no doubt our opening position is flexible because of our equity structure. If we do go into the deal we will ensure that parallel to the expansion of our international operations we will continue to lean on a sound capital structure and good liquidity. We will use the arsenal of tools at our disposal to finance the deal."