Syria conducted secret business transactions with Israel, even directly transferring a portion of its oil to the Jewish state, an ex-pat businessman said.
In an interview with Al Arabiya to be broadcast on Friday, Syrian tycoon Firas Tlass, the son of former defense minister Mustafa Tlass, said that while Syria was outwardly hostile toward Israel, it secretly conducted “political and economic deals behind the scenes.” Firas Tlass fled Syria following the start of the civil war in the country in March 2011, which is thought to be around the same time his father left as well.
He said that former prime minister Mahmoud Zuabi, believed to have committed suicide in May 2000 before standing trial for corruption in a government deal to purchase Airbus airplanes, was likely executed by the regime for threatening to reveal the interaction with Israel.
When asked why he did not reveal the information earlier, Tlass said that he too feared execution or “forced suicide,” like Zuabi.
Tlass, who acquired his wealth as a manufacturer of food and clothing for the Syrian army due to his father’s close ties with president Hafez Assad, likened Syria under the Assad dynasty to a tight-knit farm.
“We were part of the guards of this farm. Farms often include sheep, dogs, hunters and guards, and we [the Tlass family] were among the guards.”
A personal friend and military colleague of Hafez Assad, Mustafa Tlass served as Syria’s defense minister from 1972 until 2002, but was forced out of office by Hafez’s son Bashar Assad and demoted to deputy chief of staff. He is believed to be living in Paris.
Firas’s brother Manaf Tlass, a brigadier general in the Syrian Republican Guard and a personal friend of Bashar Assad, defected in July 2012 and became an outspoken critic of the Assad regime.