Tehran

Tehran tells the story of Tamar Rabinyan, a fictional Israeli Mossad agent, undercover in the heart of Iran’s capital, Tehran.

VIEWER'S GUIDE

Tehran

Available on Apple TV

Created by: Moshe Zonder

Directed by: Daniel Syrkin

Grade Level: High School and up

Themes

  • Home and homeland
  • Israel-Iran conflict
  • Complex identities

Synopsis and Introduction

Tehran tells the story of Tamar Rabinyan, a fictional Israeli Mossad computer hacker-agent who undertakes her first mission, undercover in the heart of Iran’s capital, Tehran. Along her journey, she encounters countless dangers, unexpected support, and wrestles with her complex identity as a Persian-Israeli Jew. These experiences test her loyalty to her family and country. Click here for a more in-depth analysis (spoiler alert!)

Director Daniel Syrkin is a master at creating stories centered around Israel’s intelligence agencies. In addition to the Emmy winning Tehran, he directed the series Mossad 101 (2015), in which he created a fictional training course for the Mossad, Israel’s intelligence agency. As a member of Unit 8200 during his compulsory service in the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), Syrkin brings first-hand knowledge to this fictional plot.

In a podcast interview (Hebrew), he discusses his preparation for writing and filming the series, which included a four-month intensive study of Persian language, culture, and people. Niv Sultan, who plays the protagonist Tamar Rabinyan, also participated in these private lessons and became fluent in Persian.

The series was filmed in Athens. Visually similar to Tehran, the city is now home to several thousand refugees from Iran. These refugees played an important role in creating an authentic and accurate set and characters. Among these exiles, Syrkin says he met extraordinary people who said that the series captures both the Islamic regime and the dissident political and cultural activism.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS

Watch the first episode of the series and you will quickly “meet” many of the characters and core themes. We provide a few insights and explanations that some viewers might have missed or want to know more about.

1. The necessity of undercover missions behind enemy lines:

What are moral and civil boundaries that intelligence professionals should not cross? When might the end justify the means?

2. The complexity of the politics and culture of others

Can one remain objective and open-minded about one’s enemies’ political systems and culture? How so?

3. Identity and homeland

Imagine that you immigrated to a new country and your homeland becomes an enemy of your new home? How might this impact your identities, loyalties, and sense of belonging? (Learn more about the complexities of the Iranian-Israeli Jewish experience.)

4. Unbiased narrative

Taking into account the previous three questions. Do you think the creators of the series were successful in presenting an unbiased narrative? Can such a thing exist?

BACKGROUND AND ADDITIONAL MATERIALS

1. The threat of Iranian nuclear capabilities and the Iran Nuclear Deal

The backdrop to the series is Iran’s nuclear capabilities and the threat that it poses to many countries, but especially to Israel. When the first season aired in 2021, there was a new version of a nuclear deal with Iran on the table. The original agreement was signed by the permanent members of the United Nations Security Council in 2015. One of the items that is holding the signing of the new deal is Iran’s request that the United States remove its Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps from the US's list of sanctioned foreign terrorist organizations.

In Israel many leaders fear that the deal has loopholes and in a few years, Iran will not hold back on developing its nuclear capabilities and will continue arming and funding terrorist groups in the Middle East and elsewhere—posing a real and imminent threat to Israel’s security.  

2. The 1979 Islamic Revolution and the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps

“When the 1979 Iranian revolution brought Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini to power and the Islamic Republic was established, Khomeini and his supporters had a problem: They weren’t sure they could trust the military, which just a short time beforehand had been aligned with the deposed shah. So they consolidated supporters and set up a parallel military force, called the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, made up of skilled fighters that they knew were committed to guarding Iran’s new political system and the ideals of the Islamic revolution.”

Excerpt from “What is Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps that Soleimani helped to lead?” by Miriam Berger, in The Washington Post, 2020.

3. Israeli Army Unit 8200

Unit 8200, in Hebrew Yechida Shmone-Matayim, is an Israeli Intelligence Corps unit of the IDF responsible for collecting intelligence information. The celebrated unit produces alumni with impressive technological skills, many of whom have gone on to work in high-tech companies around the world.

Learn more about Unit 8200

4. The Mossad

The Institute for Intelligence and Special Operations, better known simply as “the Mossad,” is responsible for covert activities carried out abroad to preserve the security of the State of Israel and its citizens.

It collects Intelligence beyond Israel's borders; prevents Israel's enemies from developing and acquiring non-conventional weapons; prevents terrorists from attacking Israeli and Jewish targets abroad; develops clandestine political and other contacts abroad; brings Jews to Israel from locations where Israel's ordinary immigration institutions cannot operate; carries out special operations outside Israel's borders; supports and takes an active part in the operational and Intelligence challenges of the IDF and the security establishment; and produces operative and strategic Intelligence. The head of the Mossad answers directly to the Prime Minister.

Long shrouded in mystery and mythology, the Mossad is legendary in international intelligence circles for being behind what are believed to be some of the most daring covert operations of the past century. Only a few have come to light and often only years later. Israel is typically wary of exposing the exploits of the global arm of its vaunted intelligence community out of fear of revealing its well-cultivated sources or undermining its mystique.

Learn more:

Israel’s Mossad Spy Agency Shrouded in Mystery and Mystique” by Aron Heller (AP News)

A brief video history of the Mossad (Unpacked)

5. Operation “Sha’arei Shamayim” (Heavens’ Gates)

In Tehran, the Mossad’s fictional planned mission is to neutralize Iranian air defenses so that the Israeli air force can bomb a nuclear plant and prevent Iran from obtaining an atomic bomb. 

“Sha’arei Shamayim,” the name chosen for a fictional operation in Tehran, has biblical, Talmudic, and religious connotations.

In Israel, wars and military operations are often given special names. How are these names determined? There is an urban legend that suggests a special computer improvises them, but there is intentionality and thought behind them that suggests otherwise.  

The (mostly) two-word names can be divided into a few categories: Nature, Bible, and Jewish/Israeli content among them. These names are also a way of branding military campaigns for political reasons and giving them legitimacy both nationally and internationally. 

A few examples:

1. Shomer Ha’Chomot – Guardian of the Walls (May 2021)

2. Tzuk Eitan – Protective Edge (July 2014)

3. Amud Anan – Pillar of Cloud (May 2012)

4. Oferet Yetzukah – Cast Lead (Hanukkah, Dec. 2008)

6. History of Israel-Iran relations

The ongoing intricacies of the Israel-Iran relationship are at the heart of the story of Tehran. The two countries started off as allies and after the 1979 Islamic Revolution, became enemies. There is of course MUCH more to the story than that. 

Learn more about this difficult and complex story that continues to this day.