Amit Cohen was working as a journalist for the Israeli daily newspaper Ma’aariv when the news broke: a Hamas leader wanted for the deaths of a number of Israelis had been assassinated in Dubai, but the covert operation had been botched, and now the identities of a number of Israeli spies looked to be compromised.
It was 2010, and as Ma’ariv’s Arab Affairs correspondent, Cohen was used to covering stories of intrigue and uprising across the Middle East. He had pounded pavement during both intifadas, had reported from the frontlines of Israel’s controversial pullout from the Gaza Strip in 2005, and was now neck-deep in stories about the ever-explosive Arab Spring.
But something about the Dubai assassination felt different. A team of traveling spies take out a top-ranked terrorist, but in doing so reveal their cover: forged passports based on the real identities of totally unwitting Israelis back at home. What must it be like, Cohen though, to wake up one morning and see your passport splashed across the news, suddenly linked to a notorious international crime?
Five years later, Cohen teamed up with producer Maria Feldman (“Homeland,” “Fauda”) to explore that very idea. The result is “False Flag,” a new drama from Israeli media giant Keshet Intl.. The series, which was snapped up by France’s Canal Plus this month and will lead KI’s offerings at Mipcom, follows five ordinary citizens who suddenly find themselves — or at least their identities — embroiled in a high-profile internationalassassination.
“False Flag,” which had its global debut at the Berlinale’s inaugural Special Series section and won the Grand Prize at Series Mania, will bow in Israel on Keshet Broadcasting this winter.
Cohen, who also penned Keshet Intl.’s spy thriller “Gordin Cell,” is quick to insist that while the show’s premise spun out of the Dubai assassination, its plot is entirely original.
“We’re not telling a true story — it’s just an opening scene,” he tells Variety. “We want to see how far we can push it, how far we can go with it, and along the way tell the story of these characters, many of whom are inspired by real people, some of them totally ordinary and some of the more or less ordinary.”
The action of “False Flag” kicks off on an ordinary Israeli morning, with five Israelis — a chemist, a bride-to-be, a British immigrant, a daycare worker and a traveling backpacker — suddenly finding themselves shocked to realize their identities are the subject of every single news broadcast in the country. All five are being fingered as players in the assassination of the Iranian Defense Minister while on a secret visit to Moscow, and even worse, not a single one of them seems to have a solid alibi.
Keshet created “Prisoners of War,” the Israeli predecessor to “Homeland,” and whether or not “False Flag” will be their next major international hit remains to be seen. Ahead of Mipcom, Cohen is quietly confident. “The conflicts are universal,” he says. “The feeling that this is something that could happen to you — audiences can relate to it.”