The Israeli TV action series "Fauda" has won Netflix fans worldwide for its gritty take on the exploits of an undercover unit that fights Palestinian militants.
But the grim reality of the October 7 attacks by Hamas and the Gaza war it sparked have surpassed the darkest plots its writers could have imagined, said co-creator Avi Issacharoff.
In recent days, the production team learnt that one of their own, Matan Meir, 38, was killed last Friday during combat as an army reservist inside the besieged coastal territory ruled by Hamas.
Meir, a producer, was one of five soldiers killed in the northern Gaza Strip, the army said. He was buried on Monday.
Fauda, which means "chaos" in Arabic, was co-created by journalist Issacharoff and lead actor Lior Raz, based on their experiences in the Mista'arvim counterterrorism unit.
"With all the respect due to our TV show, we're not even close to reality because reality is way more complicated than everything we have written," Issacharoff told AFP.
He recalled the morning when Hamas militants, under cover of a rocket barrage, broke through the militarised Gaza border and launched their attack on southern Israel that officials say claimed around 1,200 lives and saw 240 hostages taken back into Gaza.
The surprise onslaught sparked an intense retaliatory campaign of air strikes and a ground invasion that have claimed more than 11,240 lives, according to Hamas authorities.
Global concern has flared over the high death toll among Palestinian civilians, many of them children, as fierce combat rages around embattled Gaza City hospitals, and regional tensions boil.
- Not Fauda,'real life' -
Issacharoff remembered the day it all started and missile alarm sirens blared: "I didn't behave like the creator of the show, or a journalist -- at that time I am just a human being."
"When you see the (news of) atrocities coming from the south, first dozens of people killed, then it's hundreds, you realise it's the biggest number of Jews killed in one day since the Holocaust."
On the day after the attacks, Issacharoff said he and Raz, who plays the unit's main character Doron, rushed to the Hamas-hit southern city of Sderot to help evacuate survivors "out of the fire zone".
He said he had also volunteered with the group Brothers in Arms, which before the war had protested against right-wing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and which now helps affected communities in the south.
On October 12, amid a call-up of more than 300,000 reservists, another series actor, Idan Amedi, posted a video on X, formerly Twitter, in military fatigues and the message "it's not a scene from Fauda, it's real life".
Issacharoff bemoaned his dead production team member Meir as someone who was "very positive" and "always ready to help".
The former undercover operator pointed to the hell of urban combat and "the 24/7 threat of getting killed".
"When you fight in an open-air urban area, the threat can come from a window, from a door, from a tunnel, from everywhere," he said.
"Imagine that most of the time the enemy is not wearing uniforms. They can look like me. But when they take the AK-47 and shoot you, that's the only thing -- that you cannot tell the difference between an enemy and a civilian."
- No 'good explanation' -
The third season of Fauda was set inside a fictional Gaza and centred on a hostage rescue operation by the unit whose members speak Arabic and wear disguise to assimilate among local populations.
Issacharoff again stressed the chasm between a TV show and the worst war yet in the decades-old Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
"The undercover agents are more for times of no war, times of tension. They need to work very secretly, very hush-hush," he said. "When there is a war, you don't need undercover teams. You need a full division of tanks."
Amid the ongoing battles, he voiced grave fears for the hostages.
"Unfortunately I don't think we will see a kind of rescue operation like the kinds we see in our show, to bring back alive all the hostages," he told AFP.
A newspaper writer who specialises in the Middle East conflict, Issacharoff said he was baffled by the Hamas attack that blindsided and shocked Israel.
"I don't have a good explanation," he said, adding that he believed Hamas had "changed over the years" and had become "more radical and more indoctrinated".