The Covert War between Israel and Iran Slips from Real Life into Television, and Back

June 3, 2022 | Benny Avni
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Were it not for “diverse operations, most of which are covert,” said the former IDF chief of staff Gadi Eisenkot in a recent interview, the Islamic Republic would have had nuclear weapons some seven years ago. Meanwhile, the ayatollahs have conducted their own share of cyberattacks, assassination attempts, and so forth in retaliation. The Mossad’s role in all this has even become the subject of a popular Israeli television drama, Tehran, which has made its way to Apple TV—and recently had a brush with reality, as Benny Avni writes:

An Iranian spy has reportedly attempted to infiltrate the set of an Emmy-winning television series, Tehran, and, in another case of life imitating art, Israel’s growing, real-life sabotage campaign inside Iran seems ripped off the pages of that series’ screenplay. The alleged Iranian plot targeting the fictional TV show was disclosed this week by its creator, Moshe Zonder. Despite its life-like street scenes, Tehran is filmed in Greece, far from the Iranian capital. There, according to Mr. Zonder, Iranian spies attempted to get an operator on the set.

At the same time, Israel seems to be intensifying a real-life campaign of attacks against the Islamic Republic’s nuclear program, complete with drone attacks and assassinations of Revolutionary Guards commanders. Whether Israel’s infiltration of Iran has really deepened recently, or just became more apparent, is unclear to this reporter. Yet, reports on sabotage operations for which Tehran blames Israel are ever more frequent.

The [New York] Times reported last week that Israel had alerted America in advance of the killing of a colonel of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), Sayad Khodayari, who was shot with five bullets earlier this month near his home at Tehran, after which his motorcycle-riding assailants quickly disappeared. Israeli officials said that by disclosing to the Times that they were responsible for the IRGC bigwig’s demise, Washington could undermine future clandestine activities inside Iran.

The acclaimed success of [the] series Tehran and its vast viewership inside Iran, where the series is ostensibly banned, might also help Israeli agents to recruit at the Iranian capital. The arts often closely portray real life, but the reverse may also be true.

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