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Mustafa Tlass
مصطفى طلاس

Mustapaha Tlass in his office in Damascus

Born 1932
Al-Rastan, Hims, French Mandate of Syria
Nationality Syrian
Occupation Minister of Defense (1972-2004)
Religion Islam
Military service
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 village of al-Rastan near Homs to a Sunni kabyle 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 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.

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-Assads brother Rifaat attempted to seize power, but Tlass stayed loyal to 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[1] for publishing anti-Semitic materials. In 1983, Tlass wrote and published The Matzah of Zion, a book that intends to prove the ancient "blood libel" myth, i.e. accusations 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." [2]

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." [3]

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." [4]

During his career, Tlass also became known for colorful language. In 1991, when Syria was participating on the American 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.[5]

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. ^ 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
  2. ^
  3. ^ letter Maurice Swan NYT June 23, 1975
  4. ^ Al-Majalla, London based Saudi weekly, August 4-10, 1984
  5. ^ 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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