Taking Stock / The Man Who Counts

His name did not appear in any list of winners and losers from Partner Communications' takeover of Matav Cable Systems. But after the Great Cable Merger, he will be the biggest individual shareholder in the merged company.

He controls one of the biggest communications companies in Israel, but never grants interviews; and he's hardly ever mentioned in the press.

Even though he owns a huge chunk of Israel's cable industry, he steers clear of involvement.

We did not bother to contact him before writing this because he doesn't meet with the press anyway. He doesn't feel he owes anybody any explanations.

And yes, the Haaretz group owes one of his companies several million dollars, though it began repaying its debt two years ago, in quarterly installments.

No, it's not Shmuel Dankner, or Nochi Dankner, or Eliezer Fishman, or even Yitzhak Tshuva. No, the biggest individual shareholder in cable is Arnon "Noni" Mozes, the publisher and controlling shareholder of Yedioth Ahronoth.

The employee, and the owner

Amikam Cohen will be the one leading the merged cable TV company, after its birth. But Cohen is an employee of the Hutchison Whampoa group, which controls Partner. He isn't an owner.

Noni Mozes not only manages the Yedioth daily newspaper, he also controls the Yedioth business group. Yedioth's shares in Golden Channels will bring Yedioth a 10 or 15 percent share in the merged cable company, after Partner-Matav takes over Tevel and Golden Channels too. That would make Noni a highly dominant figure in the company.

Partner is buying Matav for cash, but to buy Golden Channels it might have to use a softer currency - its shares. That would make Noni one of the senior partners in the company.

How did Mozes suddenly regain a leading position in the industry?

Amikam Cohen is "benefitting" from the weakness of the Dankner group as it bows under the weight of its tremendous debts. And Mozes became the absolute power at Yedioth because of the weakness of his partner, Eliezer Fishman.

Four years back, Fishman seemed poised to take control over Yedioth. He and the heirs of Haim Bar-On increased their shareholding to 38 percent, making him a dominant element on the board and in the company's financial management.

But then Fishman led Yedioth into buying a third of Golden Channels at the puffed up price of $2,100 per subscriber, and this is when his relations with Mozes began to sour. The giant loans Fishman assumed to buy his shares in Yedioth and in Golden Channels accelerated the process.

Cold shoulder

The first sign of trouble came when Yedioth refused to back Fishman in his appeal against the Antitrust Authority's ruling, which barred Fishman from owning simultaneous controlling stakes in the Globes business paper and in Yedioth.

The next sign came a year ago, when Fishman began to gradually sell his shares in Yedioth at a loss. From that point, it became clear that there was only one person calling the shots at Yedioth - Noni Mozes.

Naturally, when it rains, it pours, and Noni got wet too. He had also borrowed heavily during the gay bubble days. Yedioth took on tremendous loans in the hundreds of millions of shekels to buy out Oded Mozes' shares, and to buy the shares in Golden Channels. For decades, the company's balance sheet had been almost clean of debt. Suddenly, it started to look like a telecom company's.

Like all the other media companies, Yedioth's profits plummeted in the last three years. Advertising collapsed and even the prices of weekend classifieds, long considered immune to recession, eroded.

But unlike the colleague on Carlibach Street, Ma'ariv, which accrued massive losses and had to sell assets in order to avoid total collapse, Yedioth was and remained a tremendous cash machine able to service its debts.

Noni Mozes has good reason to inquire about Partner's plans for the cable industry. But at the moment, he's more concerned about commercial television.

As long as Channel 10 remains on the air, television will continue to erode advertising income for the press. And when it comes to the press, Yedioth is the main name in the game.

Family and control struggles have kept Noni Mozes preoccupied over the last decade. If he manages to wrap them up this year, he can return his focus to business development. Then Amikam Cohen, Shmuel Dankner, Yitzhak Tshuva, Nochi Dankner and Eliezer Fishman will suddenly discover they'd overlooked another major player in the media world, a man who refuses interviews, who feels no need to talk, or explain a single thing to anybody.