Dept. of Middle East Misadventures


Tehran, the new series from AppleTV+, opens with a tense sequence on a plane that really sets the tone, not only for the series, but also for all the characters and the emotional, political, and historical baggage that they carry.

Tehran, you see, is an espionage thriller between Iran and Israel.

Shaun Toub and Navid Negahban discuss their situation in the spy thriller, Tehran.

In the opening sequence of the first episode, we meet two Israeli students aboard a Jordanian flight to India, as it is diverted to Tehran due to mechanical issues. The two Israelis freak out (because of the tense relationship between Israel and Iran), and are summarily taken away by Iranian special forces to be interrogated as suspected spies once they land.

As all of this is happening our protagonist, Tamar Rabinyan, covered head to toe in a burka, heads to the ladies room and pulls the old switcheroo with an Iranian flight attendant. The flight attendant, who we later find out is an Iranian dissident, continues on to India, while Tamar, now dressed as the air stewardess, enters Iran, and begins her mission.

Tamar Rabinyan, dressed as an air stewardess, exits the airport, into Tehran, enemy territory.

Tehran feels familiar but alien. Tehran is a little bit The Americans, and a little bit Homeland, except that it’s neither of those things. First off, there are no Americans (at least not in the first five episodes that are currently out). Secondly, this conflict is as much political as it is religious. Thirdly, the historical relationship between Israel and Iran goes far beyond pro- or anti-Zionist propaganda. Families fled their ancestral lands. Families divided into one faction or another. This isn’t just American forces retaliating against an injustice, or the American government siding with one side for political profit, or against another because of perceived threats on the international stage.

This conflict is personal.

For Malay Muslims who grew up on a steady diet of Cold War spy capers (The Man From U.N.C.L.E, Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy), Middle East action adventures (Argo, Hurt Locker), and whatever weirdness The Prisoner was, Tehran feels like a show where we finally have some (and let’s be honest here) imagined skin in the game. Because Tehran tells the story of an Israeli Mossad agent (gasp!), infiltrating Iran (double gasp!), only to have the mission go awry.

Niv Sultan is Tamar Rabinyan, an Israeli spy, at an Iranian demonstration in Tehran.

Tamar’s mission is to infiltrate an Iranian power plant, cause a blackout in the city, and allow for the Israeli air force to run a sortie. Things don’t go to plan and she is left with a decision, abort her mission and leave the city, or stay and try and make things work.


Tehran can best be described as a spy thriller, with the added Iranian-Israeli politics for colour, and some religious undertones for flavour. Tehran isn’t any one of these things. Tehran is all of these things. It’ll be easy to look at it through the lens of political Islam and take the side of the oppressed Iranians. But it would be just as easy to replace those key words with Judaism and Israel. Tehran as a show challenges you, the audience, to put aside any prejudices you may have and to treat THIS story as that; a story, filled with characters that aren’t real, with heroes and villains that challenge you, with storylines that could (and again I stress that this is a piece of fiction) have been real.

Niv Sultan and Shervin Alenabi, as the Israeli spy, and the Iranian dissident in Tehran.

That opening sequence really lays bare where the creators of the show want you to be mentally and emotionally. Sure, the Iranian special police were heavy handed and brutal to Israeli students, accusing them of being spies – physically, mentally, and emotionally hurting them. You want to side with the innocent students. You think that it isn’t fair or right that these students, based on their nationality alone, are accused of being spies. BUT, on the other hand, there were actual Israeli spies on that plane. None of what either side does in the show is justified. Except when it kind of is. 


Tehran puts you right in the middle of the Iranian-Israeli conflict. It asks you to watch and understand that while neither side is right, neither side is wholly wrong either. If you can get past your own personal prejudices, this is a riveting piece of espionage fiction that is worth your time.

AppleTV+, Season 1, 8 episodes
Creators: Moshe Zonder, Dana Eden, and Maor Kohn
Cast: Niv Sultan, Shaun Toub, Navid Negahban, Shervin Alenabi, Liraz Charhi, and Menashe Noy

Bahir likes to review movies because he can watch them at special screenings and not have to interact with large groups of people who may not agree with his idea of what a movie going experience is. Bahir likes jazz, documentaries, Ken Burns, and summer blockbuster movies. He really hopes that the HBO MAX Green Lantern series will help the character be cool again. Also don’t get him started on Jason Momoa’s Aquaman (#NotMyArthurCurry).

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