Mustafa Tlass

Mustafa Tlass
Mustafa Tlass
مصطفى طلاس
Mustapaha Tlass in his office in Damascus
Minister of Defense
In office
1972 – 12 May 2006
Preceded by Hafez al-Assad
Succeeded by Hasan Turkmani
Chief of Staff of the Syrian Army
In office
Preceded by Ahmad Suwaydani
Succeeded by Yusuf Shakkur
Personal details
Born 1932
Al-Rastan, Homs, French Mandate of Syria
Nationality Syrian
Political party Baath Party
Religion Islam
Military service
Allegiance  Syria
Service/branch Syrian Army
Rank Lt. General

Lt. Gen. Mustafa Tlass (Arabic: مصطفى طلاس‎; b. 1932) is a Syrian politician and a long time minister of defense, now retired.


Rise to power

Tlass was born in the Syrian town of al-Rastan near the city of Homs to a prominent Sunni Muslim family. He joined the Ba'ath Party at the age of 15, and met Hafez al-Assad when studying at the military academy in Homs. The two officers became friends when they were both stationed in Cairo during the 1958-61 United Arab Republic merger between Syria and Egypt: while ardent Pan Arab nationalists, they both worked to break up the union, which they viewed as unfairly balanced in Egypt's favor. When al-Assad was briefly imprisoned by Nasser at the breakup of the union, Tlass fled and rescued his wife and sons to Syria.

During the 1960s al-Assad rose to prominence in the Syrian government through a 1963 coup d'état, backed by the Ba'ath party. He then promoted Tlass (who had not been actively involved in the coup) to high-ranking military and party positions. A 1966 coup by an Alawite-dominated Ba'ath faction further strengthened al-Assad, and by association Tlass. Tensions within the government soon became apparent, however, with al-Assad emerging as the prime proponent of a pragmatist, military-based faction opposed to the ideological radicalism of the dominant ultra-leftists. Syrian defeat in the 1967 Six Day War embarrassed the government, and in 1968 Assad managed to install Tlass as new Chief-of-Staff. After the debacle of an attempted Syrian intervention in the Black September conflict, the power struggle came to open conflict.

In 1969, Tlass led a military mission to Beijing, and secured weapons deals with the Chinese government.[1][2][3] In a move deliberately calculated to antagonize the Soviet Union to stay out of the succession dispute then going on in Syria, Mustafa Tlass allowed himself to be photographed waving Mao Zedong's Little Red Book, just two months after bloody clashes between Chinese and Soviet armies on the Ussuri river.[4][5] The Soviet Union then agreed to back down and sell Syria weapons.

Under cover of the 1970 "Corrective Revolution", al-Assad seized power and installed himself as President. Tlass was promoted to Minister of Defense in 1972, and became one of Assad's most trusted loyalists during the following 30 years of one-man rule in Syria. In 1984, Hafez al-Assad's brother Rifaat attempted to seize power, but Tlass stayed loyal to the love of his life, the President. Rifaat was subsequently sent into exile. Tlass was especially valuable to the President, since he was one of the few Sunnis to take part in what was essentially an Alawite government. While he himself embraced secularism, as did the rest of the Baath, he also in a way acted as a fig leaf to cover for the sectarian policies of al-Assad.

Controversial statements

Tlass attempted to create a reputation for himself as a man of culture, and emerged as an important patron of Syrian literature. He published several books of his own, and started a publishing house, Tlass Books, which has been internationally criticized[6] for publishing anti-Semitic materials. In 1983, Tlass wrote and published The Matzah of Zion, a treatment of the Damascus affair of 1840 that repeats the ancient "blood libel", that Jews use the blood of murdered non-Jews in religious rituals such as baking Matza bread. Tlass has re-printed the book several times, and stands by its conclusions.

In 1998, Syrian Defense Minister Mustafa Tlass boasted to the Persian Gulf al-Bayan newspaper that he was the one who gave the green light to "the resistance" in Lebanon to attack and kill US marines and French soldiers, but that he prevented attacks on the Italian soldiers of the multi-national force "because he was in love with the Italian actress Gina Lollobrigida." [7] Syrian Defense Minister Mustafa Tlass had also allegedly boasted to the National Assembly about atrocities committed against Israelis who fell captive in the Yom Kippur war. "I gave the Medal of the Republic's Hero, to a soldier from Aleppo, who killed 28 Jewish soldiers. He did not use the military weapon to kill them but utilized the ax to decapitate them. He then devoured the neck of one of them and ate it in front of the people. I am proud of his courage and bravery, for he actually killed by himself 28 Jews by count and cash." [8]

There are three missing Israeli soldiers in the Bekaa valley since the June 1982 war in Lebanon. Tlass allegedly told a Saudi magazine: "We sent Israel the bones of dogs, and Israel may protest as much as it likes." [9]

During his career, Tlass also became known for colorful language. In 1991, when Syria was participating on the Coalition side in the Gulf War, Tlass stated that he felt "an overwhelming joy" when Saddam Hussein sent SCUD-missiles towards Israel. In 1999, Tlass caused a minor uproar in Arab political circles, when he denounced Palestinian leader Yassir Arafat as "the son of sixty thousand dogs and sixty thousand whores". Earlier, in 1986, he had called Arafat an "idiot" and a "puppet of the Americans".[citation needed] The long-standing conflict between the Assad regime and the Palestine Liberation Organization would not end until after Hafez al-Assad's death in 2000.

In an interview which aired Russia Today TV on June 8, 2009 (as translated by MEMRI), Tlass claimed that Actress Gina Lollobrigida had once told him that he was the "one love in my life." He also claimed that Lady Diana wrote him letters that "were full of love and appreciation." He also claimed that Prince Charles has given him a submachine gun as a gift.[10]

After Hafez Assad

The succession of Bashar al-Assad, Hafez's son, seems to have been secured by Tlass (for a while, it was rumoured that Tlass himself had assumed the Presidency, but this was not true), and his influence increased sharply as he came to head the "old guard" within the regime, sometimes at odds with the inexperienced young President. Whether true or not, Tlass and his supporters were viewed by many as opponents of the discreet liberalization pursued by the younger al-Assad, and to maintain Syria's hardline foreign policy stances; but also as fighting for established privileges, having been heavily involved in government corruption. As Bashar al-Assad struggled to establish control over the powerful state apparatus and military, Tlass resigned or was forced to resign from all positions in both the Ba'ath central committee and the government 2004.


  1. ^ Peter Mansfield, Royal Institute of International Affairs. Information Dept (1973). The Middle East: a political and economic survey. Oxford University Press. p. 480. ISBN 019215933X. Retrieved 2010-6-28. 
  2. ^ George Meri Haddad, Jūrj Marʻī Ḥaddād (1973). Revolutions and Military Rule in the Middle East: The Arab states pt. I: Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Jordan, Volume 2. R. Speller. p. 380. Retrieved 2010-6-28. 
  3. ^ Europa Publications Limited (1997). The Middle East and North Africa, Volume 43. Europa Publications.. p. 905. ISBN 1857430301. Retrieved 2010-6-28. 
  4. ^ Robert Owen Freedman (1982). The Soviet policy toward the Middle East since 1970. Praeger.. p. 34. Retrieved 2010-6-28. 
  5. ^ Robert Owen Freedman (1991). Moscow and the Middle East: Soviet policy since the invasion of Afghanistan. CUP Archive. p. 40. ISBN 0521359767. Retrieved 2010-6-28. 
  6. ^ Question of Violation of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms in Any Part of the World. Written statement submitted by the Association for World Education, 10 February 2004
  7. ^
  8. ^ letter Maurice Swan NYT June 23, 1975
  9. ^ Al Majalla, London based Saudi weekly, August 4-10, 1984
  10. ^ Former Syrian Minister of Defense Mustafa Tlass Displays Personal Memorabilia and Reminisces about His Imaginary Affairs with Actress Gina Lollobrigida and Lady Di, MEMRI, Transcript - Clip No. 2144, June 8, 2009.

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