Mustafa Tlas, the Syrian minister of defense, has been a friend of the current head of state, President Hafiz al-Assad, since their service together in Egypt. Together with Assad he took part in a conspiracy that at first landed him in jail and then eventually brought his friend to power. Promoted by Assad, Tlas, a tank commander, rose to lieutenant-general and, in 1972, minister of defense. Tlas is fifty-two. He completed general staff training at the Voroshilov Academy in Moscow and is considered an energetic advocate of close ties between Syria and the Soviet Union and of a hard line in the Middle East conflict. He has written treatises on military history and published several volumes of poetry. This interview took place in Damascus with two editors of Der Spiegel.
DER SPIEGEL: Mr. Minister, you are not only a soldier, you are also known in the Arab world as a man of letters—you write about the deadly art of warfare, but also about women and roses. How do you reconcile these very different inclinations?
MUSTAFA TLAS: It is a question of discipline and of organizing one’s time well. I was already a writer when I entered military service. At fifteen, five years prior to my first military training at the military academy, I was already a member of the Baath party. This early training also naturally fostered my literary interests. Likewise, at fifteen, there stirred in me for the first time the desire to write about feminine beauty. I met a very pretty fourteen-year-old, but was unsuccessful in trying to write a poem about her. Very unhappy, I asked my teacher for help. He told me, “Only when you can recite five thousand poems will you write one successfully.”
S: Did you follow his advice?
T: Certainly. I spent my summer vacation, three months, learning these damned poems. But it still didn’t work with the writing. Only as a forty-year-old man did I write my first verses on women’s beauty. By then the pretty girl had been married for a long time. But we have remained friends to this day.
S: Do you still write verse?
T: I will tell you a little secret—when I leave the army, I will publish a small volume that I have dedicated to the nineteen most beautiful women in the world.
S: Is a German woman among them?
T: If one considers the beautiful women of the world, there is really always a German among them. I have written about a breathtaking beauty—her mother is German, her father Arab. She, but also Princess Diana, Caroline of Monaco, Gina Lollobrigida, Georgina Risk, the former Miss Universe, as well as Jeane Manson,* will hopefully read the verses that I have written about them with pleasure.
S: Do you already have a title for your anthology?
T: “The Pillow of Sleeplessness.”
S: A curious title.
T: Jeane Manson inspired it. One day she sent me a pillow with her picture on it and a dedication. I took the pillow to bed, but couldn’t sleep all night. Hence the title.
S: How do you come into contact with your beautiful women of the world?
T: Through letters and similar ways. My Arab beauties are causing me concern because I got to know them when they were young. When my book appears they will probably all be married. I could have difficulties with their jealous husbands. I fortunately won’t run that risk with European husbands.
S: Doesn’t the soldier Tlas get sold a little short in all of this?
T: Naturally I haven’t dedicated my time solely to beautiful women. President Assad gave me the specific task of building a strong, awe-inspiring army. Looking back, I’m quite satisfied with the job I did. The combat effectiveness of our army prevented Israel from occupying all of Lebanon, and prevented NATO’s military venture there.
S: What do you mean by that?
T: The international troops which the four NATO nations—the United States, Great Britain, France, and Italy—sent.
S: And in your opinion they retreated before the “awe-inspiring” Syrian army?
T: If a country has a strong army, an aggressor thinks twice before taking on such an opponent. President Assad can rely on a powerful armed force and therefore on the concept of the French General Beaufre: “Without a strong army there is no politics.”
S: Have you ever studied German military history?
T: Oh yes. I’m downright addicted to German war history. We could bet on the fact that there is no soldier in the world who is better informed than I on battles and wars fought by the Germans. When the Bavarian Minister-President Strauss left Damascus recently he praised me: “Never have I met an officer, German or foreign, who so fundamentally and specifically could give facts and figures on particular battles of German military history as can General Tlas.”
S: Do you write on military history?
T: At the moment I’m working on a book entitled The Art of German Warfare from Clausewitz to Manstein. German military thought, represented superbly by Clausewitz, ended in the Second World War with the strategic ideas of Manstein. Unfortunately Germany has produced nothing of equal value since. Perhaps my successors can write a continuation of what I’m working on today, for there will have to be some sort of plans for strategic offensives in the Federal Republic of Germany, even if we don’t know of them.
S: We must disappoint you. According to our knowledge there are no German war plans.
T: Nonsense, every army has its operative plans. I am certain that the German army has such concepts at its disposal, for an army that doesn’t plan long-range stands to lose from the beginning. And I’ll go a step further and tell you what could possibly trigger terror in your country…
S: I hope not.
T: I wish that Germany, as I know it from history, would be restored—consisting not only of the German Democratic Republic and the Federal Republic of Germany, but also of Austria, parts of Switzerland, and of all areas where German is the native tongue.
S: What do you hope will come of that?
T: An international balance must be re-established. That is, Europe must recover its importance. The division of Germany hinders that today. Western Europe is at present an appendage of the United States, it has no political profile of its own. Since De Gaulle’s death Western Europe’s political importance has shrunk to nothing. If Western Europe possessed an autonomous political strategy, it would not allow itself to be led by an ignoramus like Ronald Reagan.
S: Following the defeat of the Arab armies in the war against Israel in 1967, you called for a revolutionary strategy against your archenemy: a war of liberation as the only possible means of defeating the superior Israelis. Aren’t the Arabs further from this goal today than ever?
T: I began the book you’re alluding to before 1967 and ended it, at any rate, after that. It was primarily influenced by the guerrilla wars of the Viet Cong against the Americans and the Greeks of Cyprus under Makarios against the British. Put simply, my concept is that one fights the enemy with all available weapons.
S: And if weapons are lacking?
T: The will to fight is decisive, for a people that loses morale has condemned itself to destruction. The leitmotif of my book is the proclamation of Ho Chi Minh when he wanted to drive the French from Vietnam: “The enemy stands in our homeland, each of you must take up arms”—each should turn his rifle, pistol, ax, whatever, against his enemy. With that I wanted to summon my Arab fellow citizens to take up the struggle against Israel.
S: Thus far without success.
T: This appeal was not for nothing, one can see that in southern Lebanon. I am happy about what has befallen the Israelis there. What I called for almost fourteen years ago has been realized in southern Lebanon.
S: Is the war of liberation you wished for raging there?
T: Classic military thought is being stood on its head in southern Lebanon: imagine, a single Lebanese succeeded in sending 256 American Marines to hell, in spite of the fact that their Marines are the most efficient soldiers in the world. Another Lebanese blew up eighty-three Israelis, a third seventy-eight Frenchmen. Three resistance fighters killed more than four hundred soldiers…
S:…with bomb strikes.
T: That’s war of liberation as I understand it. When the invaders note that every citizen of a country under attack is willing to sacrifice his life in battle, then the invaders have to ask themselves what business they really have being there. I call that the first stage of a national uprising.
S: War in its conventional sense has lost its meaning?
T: No, an airplane still has to fight against an airplane, a tank against a tank, a battleship against a battleship. If, however, a people lack tanks, planes, and battleships, only the good old formula will help: attach a bomb to your body, embrace your enemy, and blow yourself up with him. The enemy must be killed, wherever he hides, and the ground beneath his feet must glow like hell.
S: Well yes, that’s your opinion, but not that of all Arabs.
T: Unfortunately you’re correct in that. The further away the Arabs live from Israel, the less their willingness to accept our revolutionary ideas. But our first victories, however small, will trigger an avalanche that will in the end sweep all Arabs with it. The trick is starting the avalanche at the right time.
S: To President Reagan, the bomb attacks against the multinational forces in Lebanon were “barbaric terrorist attacks.” Whereas you “as a soldier bow to this heroic martyrdom”—why?
T: I said at the time, “I bow my head” and that is my opinion today. What do these Yankees really want, they cross great oceans with their ships and land on our beaches. Consider please the words of the Italian Pertini, who after all is the president of a country that is a NATO member: “Apparently we are in Lebanon to defend Israel and its interests and not to restore peace, as the Americans presented it to us.”
S: Pertini would hardly vindicate bomb attacks.
T: I’ll say it more clearly: whoever takes part in defending Israel, we will kill like an Israeli. We will kill until the invaders withdraw. It was reported to us that the British, as they were flown out, were glad to have gotten off lightly. They ran like whipped dogs, without once looking back. They came to fight with Israel against us and we curse them. The resistance fighter who defends his homeland will always be stronger than the one who invades the country.
S: In your book you named as “ideal regions” for such a guerrilla war the areas bordering on Israel—southern Lebanon, the Golan Heights, the West Bank of Jordan, and the Sinai Peninsula. How is it that three of these regions have for years, some for almost two decades, been occupied by Israel and only one, the Sinai, has been freed—and not through a war of liberation, but through a political compromise?
T: There is only one answer to that, the occupied regions can only be freed with force, as also our sovereignty can only be secured with military strength. President Roosevelt advised, “When you deal with your enemy, walk softly and carry a big stick.” For the Arabs that means that we have to become so strong militarily that in the event we ever negotiate with Israel we do not hide the stick behind our back, but lay it clearly on the table. That is the only language that Zionists understand—I know my Israelis.
S: Where was the stick in 1978 at the Camp David talks between President Carter, Egypt’s President Sadat, and Israel’s Prime Minister Begin?
T: Strictly speaking, Anwar al-Sadat didn’t completely free the Sinai, precisely because there was no stick there. I understand under the concept of sovereignty that one can station his troops on his own territory, for example, without hindrance. Of what use is a raised flag if I can’t move a single tank in the region?
S: Who can’t move his tanks where?
T: Egypt’s President Mubarak can’t dispatch one tank to the Sinai Peninsula. Israel, however, is permitted to freely deploy its strike force on his territory. An old Arabic saying is applicable to the Sinai: “An unclaimed court entices thieving.” The Sinai is unclaimed. When Israel bombarded Beirut mercilessly Mubarak protested, but Israel’s Minister of Defense Sharon merely answered, without his usual bragging: “Keep quiet or in three hours we will have recaptured the Sinai.”
S: Why just three hours?
T: I’ll explain. The Israeli border is 206 kilometers from the east bank of the Suez Canal. I know the region for I have done military service there. A helicopter loaded down with Sharon would take, figuring takeoff and landing, roughly three hours for the flight to the canal. Or take Tabah, a territory annexed by Israel, where tourists now play in a luxury hotel. Mubarak can’t even take a look at the beautiful women there. What kind of a shitty sovereignty is that? Forget it!
S: And what have you learned from that?
T: The Arabs have to realize that the Americans aren’t the slightest bit interested in having a strong Arab leader in this region, whether Egypt’s President Mubarak or Jordan’s King Hussein or Iraq’s Saddam Hussein—this pipsqueak still dreams of conquering Iran and doesn’t know that the Americans will never allow him to become strong enough to do it. The United States won’t even allow the Saudis to become a real power in this region.
S: Then in your opinion American policy is blocking any solution in the Middle East.
T: No, I’m not that pessimistic. But as long as the Americans scorn us and treat us without dignity, I won’t give a damn about America. Thank God there is not just one superpower in the world, but also the Soviet Union. The Russians have always proven to be good friends of the Arabs—politically, militarily, and economically. But we Arabs must ask ourselves why we offer the Americans oil without getting anything in return. If the Arabs would work more closely with the Soviet Union, the United States would be running behind us like a puppy and not the reverse.
S: The single halfway-suitable instrument in your war of liberation against Israel, the PLO, was smashed with the active help of Syria.
T: No, no. We have always wanted, since the birth of the Palestinian resistance, to offer support to the Palestinians in our country. We Syrians have sacrificed more for this resistance than all the other Arab nations put together. No one can maintain that he has done more for Palestine than we.
S: But your help for Palestine was not synonymous with support for the PLO.
T: The case with the PLO was the following: after the withdrawal of the Palestinians from Beirut, Arafat thought he could depend totally on the Americans. He saw and still sees in the United States the mother of the world. He believes that America alone can solve all of the world’s problems. The former Soviet Party leader Andropov once told me Arafat “wants to reach the White House on my shoulders. He would do well to choose another donkey.”
S: Has the PLO leader, in your opinion, always played the role of the opportunist?
T: When war broke out between Israel and the Arabs in 1973, Arafat held back his forces. He wanted, as he said, “to spare the blood of the Palestinian revolution,” although the Palestinians who were just behind enemy lines could have played an important role. For what did this idiot want to spare lives? When will he finally seriously begin the liberation of Palestine?
S: Didn’t he fight for that in Lebanon in 1982?
T: Only the Syrian troops really fought against the Israeli invaders at that time. In Beirut we had five hundred soldiers, 187 of whom fell as martyrs. More than ten thousand PLO fighters were under Arafat’s command in the capital. He lost only 166 men. Now I ask you, who fought better?
S: But that’s not true. The Palestinians put up a strong resistance in Beirut.
T: I don’t give a damn about Arafat. When the coffins of our dead were handed over during the exchange of prisoners on the Golan Heights, the whole world could see how many lives we had sacrificed. Arafat didn’t take home one coffin. The Western press against its better judgment blew Arafat up as a hero, when he’s nothing more than a puppet.
S: Arafat says he would gladly fight Israel from the Syrian Golan Heights, but that your army prevents him from doing so.
T: If Arafat came to Damascus today and wanted to go to the Golan Heights, I would put a car at his disposal and say, “Go to it.” But he’s lying. Fighters have to give up showy parades with spit and polish like Arafat staged in Beirut. We don’t need that in Damascus.
S: What do you need?
T: Whoever wants to offer resistance from our territory has to seriously tackle the problem of the liberation of the occupied areas. When war broke out in the Shouf Mountains, what did that clown Arafat do? He hid in a Marlboro crate and allowed himself to be shipped to Tripoli…
S: …in order to organize resistance to the destruction of his arm of the PLO.
T: Arafat likes to fight like the heroes of A Thousand and One Nights, like Sinbad the Sailor. When the theatrical thunder died down in Tripoli, Don Quixote–Arafat withdrew from the front under the protection of the United States Sixth Fleet with the help of the French and with the tacit permission of Israel.
S: What role should the PLO play in the future in your opinion?
T: The PLO continues to play an important role for us, it must find its way back to the proper national path and stop betting on Reagan’s supposed trump. The PLO must cleanse its ranks of traitors.
S: Of Arafat also?
T: That’s what I mean. He has catapulted himself out of the PLO.
S: What would an autonomous Palestinian policy look like, that would also have Syria’s blessing?
T: One thing is certain, the liberation of Palestine without Syria is like a sail without wind. No Palestinian should suffer the illusion that Palestine could be freed without the participation of Syria. Camping out in front of the White House in Washington won’t help. Neither Reagan nor Israel will ever voluntarily let the Palestinians have their own state.
S: In view of the continuing intra-Arab quarreling, is a common strategy of Arab states still possible?
T: We Syrians have a clear military concept. We pursue definite political goals. Whoever joins us is welcome, whoever doesn’t want to get involved should stay away. We can do it alone.
S: How can you still hope for joint Arab measures if you at the same time require a “revolutionary indoctrination” of the fighters against Israel? Next to the Islamic fundamentalism of Khomeini, the traditional Arab monarchs fear nothing more than the form of pan-Arabic nationalism propagated by Syria.
T: These countries have nothing to fear from our political ideas. They should direct their vigilance toward Israel. Instead, they are afraid of the Zionists, even if they don’t show it.
S: Syria’s socialism also is a cause for concern.
T: That poses no threat to the oil-rich countries. We introduced socialism because we are a poor country and we wanted to bring about a just distribution system. The oil countries don’t have this problem, they have enough for everyone.
S: You apparently consider the fear of revolutionary bacteria from Iran unfounded.
T: Iraq made a big mistake regarding Khomeini’s revolution. Rather than using the shift of power in Tehran to satisfy his own interests directed against Iran, Saddam Hussein would have done better to win the Iranian revolutionary spirit over for the fight against Israel. If Iraq had not attacked Iran, the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 1982 would never have come to pass.
S: Is there any evidence to support your thesis?
T: Former American Secretary of State Haig revealed it in his memoirs. The retired general, who usually kicks unpredictably like a mule—only in America can a mule become secretary of state—admitted that the United States had knowledge of Israel’s plans of invasion for years. If the Arab armies had united, Israel would have thought it over several times before risking an invasion.
S: You accept the principle of the separation of church and state. But you make deals with the militant theocratic regime of the Ayatollah Khomeini—isn’t that a contradiction?
T: If Khomeini said to us, I will fight with you against the Israelis, I would kiss his beard and rejoice. I kiss anyone who fights with us against Israel. If Pope Wojtyla offered us support in the fight against Israel today, I wouldn’t care that I am a Sunni, I would make the sign of the cross.
S: In the war of 1973, the attacking Syrians and Egyptians scored considerable initial successes against Israel—was that a result of the military cooperation of the two countries?
T: In the October war eleven years ago, we arranged with Egypt the mobilization of all of our forces, to lead them into joint battle against Israel. The Egyptians were to capture and hold the Sinai passes, we were to cross the Jordan. But that crazy Sadat halted his troops after only eleven kilometers, so that Israel could take planes and tanks from the south and direct them against our forces…
S: …who had already pushed far ahead with their tanks.
T: That is correct, but Sadat’s refusal thwarted our successful attack, we couldn’t hold captured ground. Sadat only wanted a miniwar in order to move the Israeli problem into the global political arena, he opposed the plans we had made together. He abandoned us in the worst way.
S: So there will not be joint military ventures in the future?
T: With every battle we learn from our experiences. For this reason we are now building one of the strongest armies in the world, with at present almost a half-million armed soldiers. In the event of war we could mobilize a million soldiers. As long as our women bear children and the Soviet Union delivers weapons to us, our fight against Israel will not wane.
S: Doesn’t the army’s political influence suffer from the fact that military victories are overdue?
T: Nonsense, all rumor. What the press has fabricated lately is disgusting. In Syria there is only one president, Hafiz al-Assad. He is the commander in chief of armed forces and secretary general of the Baath party. Write this word for word in Der Spiegel: There is no military wing and no party wing in our country.
S: How about the president’s brother Rifaat [who recently had gone from Syria to Geneva]?
T: If our president says to someone, beat it to Geneva, that person goes to Geneva. Whoever says no to President Assad will be a head shorter. The man you have named is a permanent persona non grata for us. If this person had not left the country, the army would have taken measures. Our state is strong. Even Kissinger admits in his memoirs, “We did everything possible to overthrow Hafiz al-Assad in Syria. But the regime is powerful and strong and for this reason we had to abandon our plan.”
S: You once called the attempt to take on Israel in the arms race “the greatest crime and an unforgivable error of the Arab nations. That is the song of the devil—it has a beginning but no end.” Aren’t you singing this devil’s song in your present efforts to attain “a strategic standoff with Israel”?
T: When I wrote the book in 1970 from which you quote, I had tried all the possibilities at my disposal and had come to the conclusion that we could not engage in an arms race with Israel. But as the Soviet Union is willing today to give us everything that we need, I am ready to sing the devil’s song. In fact, we are immensely grateful to Moscow for the immeasurable help in building our strike forces into one of the greatest armies in the world.
S: Who in the Kremlin was the most helpful?
T: Andropov. He was the man who helped Syria attain its present strength. We will never forget him for that. He was a great man. Brezhnev wasn’t bad, but Andropov was more decisive and had no fear of the Americans.
S: And Chernenko?
T: Nothing has changed under him. Chernenko continues resolutely on the path Andropov cleared, in the same tempo. But without a doubt it was Andropov who dared to oppose the Americans in our region. He said to me, “We will allow no one in the world to defeat Hafiz al-Assad.”
S: Are you yourself in close contact with the top Soviet leaders?
T: I was present at all the talks between President Assad and the Kremlin leadership, from the time since Brezhnev. I can assure you that these talks were always between equal partners and not between a superpower and a vassal. A similar atmosphere hardly exists in the talks between President Mubarak and King Hussein on the one side and with the Americans on the other. The United States views both as vassals.
S: And why has Syria come out so much better with the Eastern superpower?
T: President Assad is a very proud man, whom nobody can push around. The Russians understand that. There exists between us a strategic friendship, if one may say that, that is directed against imperialism and Zionism.
S: What does Syria offer Russia in exchange, marines and air bases?
T: Nothing of the kind. They have neither tied conditions to the delivery of arms nor are they stingy with arms assistance. Moscow’s willingness to help us with arms arises from Russia’s only interest—fighting the clientele and agents of the United States in our region.
S: The Soviet Union has up until now fulfilled almost every desire you have had for weapons, compensated for your war losses, and stocked your arsenals with the newest, most modern war materials…
T: Correct. They have granted all our requests for weapons.
S: Are they sufficient for a new confrontation with Israel?
T: There are enough to nip an Israeli attack in the bud. In the meantime Israel knows that any attack on Syria would end in catastrophe. That is also the reason that the United States has not dared attack us. It wasn’t chivalry or decency that held them back, but the clear knowledge that a war with us would be no picnic.
S: In an order of the day on the occasion of Israel’s march into Lebanon in June of 1982, President Assad called the Syrian troops to “courageous battle despite the overwhelming air superiority of the Israelis.” Does Israel still have significant military advantages?
T: No, neither of planes, nor tanks, nor guns. We possess the best tanks in the world…
S: Better than the Israeli “Merkawa” tank?
T: I laugh at the Merkawa. If our T-72 hits a Merkawa it would resemble a cardboard box in flames. Thus far no one has reported a T-72 being disabled by a Merkawa tank. The Israelis managed that only with air-to-ground missiles. They hit the barrel with the reserve fuel and that set the motor on fire. No T-72 has had its armor penetrated. Altogether, seven T-72s broke down in 1982, but in the interim they have long since been repaired and are ready for action.
S: So there is no longer an Israeli arms advantage?
T: I concede that the Israelis are one step ahead of us now, as before, in electronic warfare and air force mobilization. But we are working on this problem and will close the gaps in the foreseeable future.
S: In 1982 your air force lost eighty-four tactical aircraft in the Israeli attack on Lebanon. Israel lost none. For every disabled enemy tank, the Syrian army lost ten, and of twenty antiaircraft missile positions in the Bekaa Valley, seventeen were totally destroyed within hours—do you have the wrong weapons, the wrong training, or the wrong tactics?
T: First of all, we did not suffer a military defeat in Lebanon. Israel required five days at that time to advance four kilometers. No breathtaking military feat.
S: Israel’s attack was not directed against Syrian troops to begin with.
T: Then later, as we lost our air defense in the Bekaa plain due in particular to Israeli electronic superiority, our tanks were next to defenseless against Israeli air attacks. Today the tide has turned. With new missiles that can cover 240 kilometers we can shoot down Israeli airplanes over Beirut from Syria, from the vicinity of the city Homs.
S: Who commands the ultramodern far-ranging SAM-5 antiaircraft?
T: President Assad and, in his absence, myself.
S: Are the fire-control centers connected via satellite to the commando centers in the Soviet Union, as we read everywhere? Do you have Soviet advisers for the missiles?
T: There are advisers. But we alone make the decision on the deployment of these weapons. They are not connected by satellite to Moscow, they are connected by radio to Damascus.
S: But Israel was not only superior in the air.
T: The second reason for our poor performance in Lebanon was that our troops weren’t deployed for battle. We came to Lebanon to liberate the country, not to attack Israel. It would have been a different story if our armed forces had been in battle formation and equipped with the necessary supplies. The Syrian soldiers fought valiantly even despite all of these disadvantages. Even the Israelis had to admit that.
S: Above all, your adherence to the Soviet guiding principle of “strict ground control” proved itself to be disastrous in the air war against Israeli jets.
T: “Ground control” is not only in accordance with Soviet doctrine but also a part of the American principle of tactical employment. But to discuss this in detail would fill books and could be the subject of an entire course at the military academy. Naturally the Americans have an advantage over the Russians in many areas, but in other areas the Soviets have the advantage over the Americans. This will always be so.
S: For example?
T: It earlier appeared impossible to shoot down an American F-4 “Phantom.” Today with the help of Soviet missiles, it falls like the leaves in autumn. We shouldn’t let ourselves be blinded by Western propaganda. Thus far the Soviet strategy has proven itself to be the correct strategy.
S: According to experts, it is highly probable that Israel possesses nuclear weapons. What options does Syria have of countering this danger?
T: We are convinced that Israel has nuclear weapons at its disposal. The Americans have facilitated Israel’s access to them. They work very closely together with the Israelis on nuclear technology. If Israel should employ nuclear weapons, it [America] alone would be responsible. The Soviet Union has guaranteed that in such a case they would make nuclear weapons available to us, with which we could reply to such annihilating attack.
S: What kind of weapons system is it?
T: We could deploy ground-to-ground missiles or air-to-ground missiles. The Soviets can, in any case, put at our disposal the means to make a nuclear response feasible. If Israel resorts to nuclear weapons, it will only be the loser and in no case the winner.
S: Who would lead the retaliation, Syria or Russia?
T: Not the Russians; we would strike back at the Israelis. We would even risk our lives to come into possession of a few nuclear weapons with which we could reach Israel. Can you give me a plausible reason why we shouldn’t do that, if Israel is the first to deploy nuclear weapons?
S: That would be the prelude to world conflagration.
T: As long as the Americans blindly support Israeli policy, that is the fuse that will ignite a world war.
S: Can you even imagine a political solution to the conflict with Israel?
T: We have agreed with the Soviets’ suggestion to hold an international conference on the Middle East problem. But that is a pipe dream. The only real chance is dictating conditions to our enemy with a strong army.
S: Was there ever the possibility of an understanding between Syria and America?
T: The Americans have no autonomous Middle East policy. They do what the Israelis tell them to. Under Nixon there was still a glimmer of hope that the United States could return to the policies of Eisenhower, that is, to place the Israelis behind the pre-1967 borders. When President Assad asked Nixon at that time what would happen if Israel would not bow to such a demand by America, the President replied, “Then these damned Jews should not expect help from us.”
S: And President Reagan, a Republican like Nixon, arouses no hope in you?
T: You can forget him. We have to depend on ourselves and never let go of the Kalashnikov. Clausewitz said, “Politics is not only the application of power, but the use of other means.”
S: Which means?
T: We have to mobilize all political, military, economic, even cultural forces to wear Israel down. This is the only language the Israelis and the Americans understand. Only the strong are respected. The Americans are still cowboys. So we have to talk to them in their cowboy language. They possess neither character nor morals, to say nothing of culture. De Gaulle’s words are still applicable today: “Culture is in Europe, money in America.”
S: But the United States currently has Arab allies.
T: Unfortunately, But what kind of nonsense is it that the Arabs complain in Washington about the Israeli settlement policies? The Americans were settlers themselves and built their farms on the skulls of the Indians.
S: What possible solutions to the Middle Eastern conflict are most likely to you: armed struggle, a political compromise, or a third possibility?
T: The example of the Israeli settlement policies proves that only the path of force will work. Or do you believe that the Israelis will serve us the occupied areas on a silver platter?…
S: …how can the Lebanese dispose of the occupation forces in southern Lebanon?
T: There is only one way—armed resistance. Israel doesn’t scare us anymore. That time is over.
—translated by Edna McCown
November 22, 1984