Israel and Iran are the worst of enemies. Iran regularly call for Israel’s destruction and supports its most implacable enemies. Israel, in turn, works ceaselessly to sabotage Iran’s nuclear program and undermine its regional proxies.
Their conflict is an existential battle tailor-made for the big screen or television. Tehran, the new eight-part Apple TV miniseries, contains all the elements of a compelling drama.
It’s suspenseful, fast-moving and mostly plausible, with a cast of characters ranging from a steely Mossad agent to a canny Iranian counter-intelligence official.
Skillfully directed by Daniel Syrkin, and broadcast in Hebrew, Farsi and English, it takes place largely in Tehran, with Athens and stock footage filling in as the Iranian capital and chunks of it unfolding in Mossad headquarters near Tel Aviv.
The central figure, Tamar (Niv Sultan), is a young and attractive Mossad operative of Iranian Jewish descent whose task is to disable Iran’s anti-aircraft batteries so that the Israeli Air Force can strike Iranian nuclear facilities with impunity. It’s not a far-fetched scenario. In 2012, the Israeli government seriously considered this audacious option.
Tamar’s assignment is to infiltrate an electric power station in Tehran and reprogram the computer network connected to the Iranian armed forces. By means of stealth and disguise, she replaces an Iranian woman who was employed there. They switch identities shortly after Tamar lands at Tehran airport.
Portrayed by Sultan with restraint and aplomb, Tamar is a resourceful hacker who’s cool under pressure, speaks Farsi fluently, and is adept in the martial arts. She’s the perfect mole.
Syrkin heightens the tension in the first two scenes.
As Tamar is driven into Tehran, she spots a corpse hanging from atop a high crane. It’s the body of a banker who was convicted of embezzlement. The message is clear: Iran is governed by a ruthless regime, and anyone who crosses it will pay a heavy price.
At the airport, meanwhile, an Israeli couple en route to India are in panic mode. The Jordanian passenger plane they boarded in Amman has been forced to land in Tehran due to an engine malfunction, and now they fear they will be mistreated by the Iranian authorities.
They’re questioned sharply by Kamali (Shaun Toub), an Iranian intelligence agent who suspects they’re up to no good. In fact, the Israelis are innocents abroad, tourists who never had any intention of going to Iran.
Kamali’s interrogation of the Israelis yields a major dividend. He learns that a Mossad agent has entered Iran. This explosive information impels him to launch a desperate search for Tamar, who, in the meantime, tries to disable Iran’s air defences.
Now a hunted enemy of the state, Tamar discards the identity she adopted upon entering Iran and looks for a safe place to hide. Turning up at her aunt Arezoo’s apartment, she begs for assistance. Arezoo (Esti Yerushalmi), a convert to Islam married to a member of the judiciary, grudgingly agrees to put her up for one night. Arezoo’s daughter, Razieh, a fanatical supporter of the regime, views Tamar suspiciously.
Tamar’s handlers in the Mossad, Yael (Liraz Charhi) and Gorev (Menashe Noy) instruct a Tehran-based agent, Tabrizi (Navid Negahban), to find her. He is eventually arrested.
Hot on Tamar’s trail, Kamali calls in Arezoo and her family for questioning after discovering they sheltered Tamar.
As Kamali closes in on Tamar, she contacts an underground source in Tehran, Milad (Shervin Alenabi), counting on him to produce a forged passport that will enable her to get out of Iran. He’s a computer whiz who hates the Iranian government, but has no idea that Tamar works for the Mossad.
Iranian dissidents like Milad are hell-bent on overthrowing the Islamic fundamentalist regime. As one of his compatriots says, “These clerics have ruined the most beautiful country on earth.”
The tension thickens when Kamali receives a phone call from the Mossad warning him that, unless he releases Tabrizi and allows him to leave Iran unharmed, he may never see his wife again. The Mossad, having abducted her in Paris after brain surgery, will release her only after Kamali complies with its demand.
Assisted by Milad and his friend, Tamar attempts yet again to shut down Iran’s air defence system. “We will not tolerate a nuclear Iran,” says Gorev, echoing the Israeli government’s policy and Tehran’s overarching theme.
Inevitably, complications occur and people are killed. Ali (Arash Marandi), Kamali’s deputy, vigorously pursues Tamar, knowing she is a dangerous foe. If she accomplishes her mission, Israeli jets primed for combat will take off and bomb Iran’s nuclear sites.
Tehran is resolutely pro-Israel in orientation, but it treats Iranians and Iranian military capabilities with respect. Tehran wallows in corny moments here and there, but it glues viewers to their seats.