Tlas, Mustafa (1932–)

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Tlas, Mustafa

Mustafa Abd al-Qadir Tlas, a Baʿthist politician and military officer, was a close associate of the late President hafiz al-asad and was Syria's defense minister from 1972 to 2005.


Tlas was born to a Sunni Muslim Arab family in al-Rastan, near the large Syrian city of Hums, on 11 May 1932. Tlas worked as a physical education teacher at the al-Kraya School, in the governorate of Suwayda, from 1950 to 1952. He joined the Ba'th Party in 1947.

In 1952 Tlas left teaching and enrolled in Syria's Military Academy in Hums. There he met another young Ba'thist officer, Hafiz al-Asad, and the two men's destinies became permanently intertwined. Tlas was a member of the country's Sunni Muslim majority; Asad was an Alawite, an impoverished minority Islamic sect, but the two had much in common. Both were from modest rural backgrounds, both hoped to advance socially through the opportunities offered by the military, and both were members of the Ba'th Party. Both were posted to the Air Force Academy in Aleppo, although Tlas failed flight training. After leaving the academy in 1954, he became an officer in the armored (tank) corps of the Syrian army in 1955. Tlas later was stationed in Egypt from 1959 to 1961, during the period in which Egypt and Syria were joined as the United Arab Republic (UAR). Asad was stationed there as well. When Syria seceded from the UAR in September 1961, and Asad was jailed in Egypt, Tlas helped his friend's wife and baby return safely to Syria.

It was Tlas' position in the Ba'th Party, and his friendship with and loyalty to Asad, that led to his prominence in the military and politics from the 1960s on. Asad was a member of the secret Ba'thist Military Committee, which overthrew Syria's government in March 1963. As part of the new ruling elite, Asad brought his friend into its ranks after the coup, and also had Tlas appointed commander of an armored battalion. Tlas was granted other important positions through which he proved his loyalty to the party and its important Military Committee. In 1964 Tlas became deputy commander of an armored brigade and eventually its commander. In August 1965 he was elected to the Ba'th Party's Syrian Regional Command, the local government subordinate to the pan-Arab National Command. Tlas also headed the National Security Court that tried persons accused of plotting against the Syrian regime, including those arrested following the 1964 anti-Ba'thist violence in the city of Hama.


Name: Mustafa Abd al-Qadir Tlas

Birth: 1932, al-Rastan, Syria

Family: Wife: Lamiya al-Jabiri; two sons: Firas and Manaf; two daughters: Nahid and Sariya

Nationality: Syrian

Education: Syrian Military Academy, Hums, 1952–1954; general staff training in Syria; Supreme Institute for Military Studies, Voroshilov Academy, Moscow, 1972; doctoral studies, Sorbonne, Paris, 1980s


  • 1950–1952: Schoolteacher
  • 1952–1954: Attends Syrian Military Academy
  • 1955–1959: Tank officer, Syrian army
  • 1968: Becomes member, Ba'th Party Syrian Regional Command, and chief of staff, Syrian army
  • 1972–2005: Defense minister of Syria

Tlas was dismissed from his positions in the party and military in December 1965 because of growing intra-Ba'thist friction in Syria. However, he was rehabilitated after Asad and other officers staged a coup in February 1966. Asad became defense minister in the new regime, and Tlas soon rose to command the army General Command reserve forces during Syria's disastrous defeat at the hands of Israel in June 1967, when Israel captured the strategic Golan Heights region of Syria. Tlas subsequently was promoted to chief of staff of the army and deputy minister of defense, with the rank of major general, in February 1968. In October 1968, Tlas resumed membership in the Ba'th Party's Syria Regional Command.

Asad later seized power through his own "Correctional Movement" coup in November 1970. As president, Asad rewarded Tlas by appointing him deputy commander-in-chief of the armed forces, and eventually yielded the post of defense minister to him in March 1972. As defense minister, Tlas traveled surreptitiously to Egypt to help plan the joint Egyptian-Syrian attack on Israeli forces in October 1973 that nearly succeeded in recapturing the Golan Heights. He also oversaw the deployment of Syrian forces to Lebanon in March 1976 to help end that country's civil war, the subsequent Syrian occupation of parts of that country, and the modernization of the Syrian military.

Elevated to lieutenant general, Tlas remained defense minister for thirty-three years, and was one of the pillars of the Asad regime. Upon Asad's death in June 2000, Tlas was one of a few senior Ba'thists who oversaw the transition in the presidency from Asad to his son, bashar al-asad. The younger Asad replaced many of his father's old Ba'th cronies, but kept Tlas as his defense minister. Tlas finally retired from his post, and from the army, in May 2005.

Outside his official duties, Tlas also founded a publishing house and authored a number of writings on different topics, from military history to poetry.


As a politician, Tlas long remained one of the main pillars of the Ba'thist regime of Hafiz al-Asad. He never really developed an independent power base. Asad in turn benefited from having a Sunni Muslim who was well integrated with the urban Sunni elite occupy a key position in his government alongside many Alawite associates to give the appearance that his regime was not just a bastion of the Alawite sect. As an army officer, Tlas guided the Syrian military during the important period of the 1970s and 1980s, when the armed forces grew significantly in size, strength, and sophistication thanks to growing ties and coordination with the Soviet Union.


Manaf Tlas (1963[?]–), Mustafa Tlas' son, is an officer in the Syrian army and one of the commanders of the powerful Republican Guard. He is a boyhood friend of President Bashar al-Asad, remains close to him, and is considered a prominent member of the younger generation of Syrian politicians. In 2000, Tlas was elected to the Ba'th Party's Central Committee. He is married to Tala Khayr.


During Israel's invasion of Lebanon [in 1982], and after the deployment of the multinational force, I gathered the Lebanese resistance leaders together and told them: Do whatever you want with the U.S., British, and other forces, but I do not want a single Italian soldier to be hurt … because I do not want a single tear falling from the eyes of Gina Lollobrigida … I admire Gina Lollobrigida. I love it when a woman is beautiful. I've been fond of her ever since my youth. I used to collect her pictures and send her letters from the frontline or any other place in the world.


Yasir Arafat, in his concessions to Israel, resembles a strip tease dancer. Whenever she goes on stage, she takes off a piece of clothing. But the difference between Yasir Arafat and a strip tease dancer is that as the dancer strips, her beauty is exposed. But as Yasir Arafat strips, his ugliness is revealed … He has handed over all his cards to the Israeli enemy … Why, you son of 60,000 dogs? You son of 60,000 whores?

                   TELEVISED SPEECH, 1 AUGUST 1999.


For Syria's archenemy, Israel, Tlas is associated with the growth of Syrian military and strategic power after its defeat in 1967. Palestinians recall that Tlas was an outspoken hardliner in Syria's frosty relationship with the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) and its longtime chairman, YASIR ARAFAT. Lebanese recall the Syrian army's long occupation of parts of Lebanon, its blatant interference in Lebanon's politics, and the corruption that enriched Syrian officers and their Lebanese collaborators.

Tlas also has received much attention and criticism for his outspoken opinions. In August 1999, he publicly denounced Arafat as a "son of 60,000 dogs and 60,000 whores" for the diplomatic concessions he had made to Israel. In January 1998, he stated in an interview that his admiration for Italian actress Gina Lollobrigida affected orders he gave to pro-Syrian forces in Lebanon. He also outraged Jews because of anti-Semitic books he released through his own publishing house, including the classic anti-Semitic tract Protocols of the Elders of Zion and his own book, The Matzo of Zion. The latter recounted the 1840 Damascus "blood libel" incident in which Jews were charged with allegedly killing a Christian monk to obtain blood for making matzo bread.


Tlas will go down in history as a key player in the Ba'th Party's lengthy rule in Syria during the twentieth century, a period that saw Syria grow into a significant Middle Eastern political and military power able to project its influence beyond its borders.


Batatu, Hanna. Syria's Peasantry, the Descendants of Its Lesser Rural Notables, and Their Politics. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1999.

Seal, Patrick. Asad: The Struggle for the Middle East. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1990.

                                        Michael R. Fischbach