An Iranian Spy Reportedly Tries To Infiltrate Emmy-Winning Israeli Television Series
Art imitates life in this twilight struggle — or is it the other way around?
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.
“Four Jewish women of Iranian descent were recruited by an Iranian spy who claimed to be Jewish,” Mr. Zonder told the Israeli army radio station, Galaz. The spy, he said, “sent one of the women to audition for the series.” The would-be infiltrator did not pass the audition, he added.
It is not quite clear what Iranian spies could learn about their Israeli counterparts on the set that they could not glean from watching the television show: The second season of “Tehran” has been broadcast in weekly installments in Israel and on Apple TV here since May 6.
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.
Officially, Israel is mum about such operations — so much so that unnamed Jerusalem officials told Israeli press that they were irate about a leak to the New York Times from Washington.
The Times reported last week that Israel had alerted America in advance of the killing of a colonel of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, 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. Israeli allegations of harmful American leaks were made frequently in President Obama’s era, when Washington was secretly conducting Iran diplomacy that the Israeli government opposed.
Yet, Jerusalem itself is not overly secretive. “The period of immunity for the Iranian regime is over,” Prime Minister Bennett said last week, shortly after the reports of Israel’s involvement in the killing of Khodayari.
“Whoever funds terrorists, whoever arms terrorists, whoever sends out terrorists, will pay the full price,” Mr. Bennett said at a public event, in what was widely perceived as taking responsibility for the killing of the IRGC commander.
Meanwhile, Tehran is reportedly rattled after an incident at the Iranian military base at Parchin two weeks ago. The local press initially reported of an “industrial accident,” which is now widely believed to have been an attack via four self-destructing drones that killed an engineer and injured others, while causing major damage to the facility.
The Biden administration is attempting to revive the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. International inspection was sold as a cornerstone of that deal, but it has been inadequate from the start. Iran, for one, barred inspectors from entering the Parchin base.
Israel, which had not been party to the JCPOA, has long employed its own version of nonproliferation activities. The Parchin base has previously been damaged in attacks, widely attributed to Israel, at least twice before, in 2007 and 2014.
This year’s campaign has intensified, including an attack on a drone-manufacturing facility at Kermanshah in February and a hit on a centrifuge-making facility at Karaj last June.
The Parchin attack, made with drones that reportedly were launched from inside Iran, raised fears among the country’s military command that Israel’s infiltration of the IRGC is much deeper than the one spy-ring portrayed in the “Tehran” series.
In an attempt to counter such fears, an Iranian army commander, Major General Abdolrahim Mousavia, followed the Parchin attack with a tour of an underground drone facility in Tehran, boasting that “no doubt the drones of Islamic Republic of Iran’s armed forces are the region’s most powerful.”
Jerusalem has long used a strategy of ambiguity in its shadow war against a regime intent on erasing Israel off the map. Officials never acknowledge —but with a wink and a nod they all but take responsibility for — a sabotage campaign inside Iran.
Under Mossad’s new director, David Barnea, Israel’s spy agency has apparently used Iranaian citizens’ growing aversion to the regime and deepened the agency’s infiltration into the country’s top military echelon.
The acclaimed success of entertainment 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.
Benny Avni is a columnist who has published in the New York Post, WSJOpinion, The Daily Beast, Newsweek, Israel Radio, Ha’Aretz, and others. Once New York Sun, always New York Sun.