Israel's latest spy drama 'Tehran' explores nuclear tensions

'Tehran', an Israeli television series focusing on Israel's sub rosa efforts to undermine Iranian nuclear program, premieres on Apple TV.

Tags: Iran
Alexandra Vardi, AFP ,


The plot of Israel's latest spy series to screen internationally, "Tehran" premiering on Apple TV, seems straight from the news headlines and reflects the Jewish state's ongoing conflict with Iran.

A young Mossad agent is sent on her first mission: to disable Iranian air defenses so Israel can strike a reactor and deny the Islamic Republic the ability to make an atomic bomb.

The press in Iran -- a country which strongly denies that its nuclear program is for anything other than civilian use -- has slammed the show as "Zionist propaganda".

Yet, while the notion of Israel and Iran cooperating on anything -- let alone a television series -- is unthinkable now, "Tehran" co-creator Moshe Zonder said he likes to think of it as at least a cultural coproduction.

"We speak more Farsi than Hebrew in 'Tehran'... so to a certain extent, I would like to think that it is an Israeli-Iranian series, although officially it is not," he said.

Zonder told AFP he believes the Iranian and Israeli people "could be friends, without the leaders who frighten their population and stir up hatred in order to stay in power".

Lead actress Niv Sultan studied Farsi for four months, he said, to prepare for the role of an Iranian-born Jewish woman who is sent back on an undercover mission to the country of her childhood.

Two Iranian-born actors are also in the show -- Navid Negahban and Shaun Toub, both of whom have had roles in the US series "Homeland", which is also based on an Israeli-made espionage series.

Praise and controversy

Its producers hope "Tehran" will have similar global success as previous series featuring Israel's notorious secret agents.

"Fauda", about an undercover Israeli unit fighting Arab militants, marked a breakthrough for attracting international audiences to Israeli productions and runs to three seasons on Netflix.

Praised by some for its nuanced portrayal of the Israeli-Arab conflict, it has also been criticized for being one-sided and glorifying Israel and its agents.

"Tehran", an eight-part series, was produced by Israel's public television network Kan and mostly shot in Athens.

Yossi Sivan, a member of an association of Iranian Jews living in Israel, told AFP that the spy thriller series nonetheless "gives the impression" of taking place in Tehran.

Sivan, who is in his 70s, moved to Israel when he was 20, but said images of the Tehran suburbs where he spent his childhood remain engraved in his mind.

An estimated tens of thousands of Iranian Jews have moved to Israel since its establishment in 1948, although official figures are not available.

Sivan, growing audibly emotional, said he had only returned to Tehran once since leaving, "when it was still possible".

In Iran, the Kayhan newspaper, which is close to Islamic ultra-conservatives, in October slammed the new Israeli show.

It charged that "this series tries to portray the Zionist regime's espionage system as so powerful that Israeli spies are roaming around Iran freely".

"While Iran's cinema has given up producing anti-Israeli films and series," it argued, "the Zionist regime has set up a production line for anti-Iran material".