Orange CEO Stephane Richard expressed deep regret over what he called a misinterpretation of comments regarding the operator's desire to pull out of Israel in a meeting with the nation's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Richard was called to account after reports that he said he would withdraw the Orange brand from Israel "tomorrow morning" were it not for the likely financial and legal penalties of such a move. The CEO was referring to a brand licensing deal with Israeli operator Partner Communications, which Orange wishes to end as part of a strategy to exit markets where it is not a leading operator.
Netanyahu summoned Richard to a meeting in the Israeli capital Jerusalem to answer for the comment, which had been taken as a call to boycott Israel due to ongoing tensions with neighbouring Palestine.
Richard told the Israeli PM he was deeply distressed by, and regretted, the outcry that resulted from the misinterpretation of his words, BBC News reported.
The Orange chief reassured Netanyahu that the company does not back any boycott of Israeli companies, and that the country's digital market is a "fantastic place" to operate, the New York Times reported.
During the meeting, Richard appeared to back-track on Orange's desire to exit Israel as part of a broader restructuring, telling the Israeli PM that Orange wants to strengthen its position in the country, the NYT added.
That desire runs contrary to an Orange statement in early June that confirmed the operator "ultimately wishes" to end its deal with Partner Communications. Orange stated its brand strategy now means that it "does not wish to maintain the presence of the brand in countries in which it is not, or is no longer, an operator."
The company's deal with Partner Communications was struck in 2000 and today is "the only long-term brand licence agreement within the Orange Group," the statement explained.
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