WASHINGTON – Lebanon's chief of staff, Gen. Joseph Aoun, dropped out at the last moment of a major conference of chiefs of staff hosted by the United States, which was attended by Israel's chief of staff, Lt. Gen. Gadi Eisenkot.
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The conference was held at the beginning of the week in Washington. Although Aoun did not attend, army heads from other Arab countries like Egypt and Jordan, which have peace treaties with Israel, as well as Saudi Arabia, which doesn’t, did participate in the event.
The head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Joseph Dunford, hosts the conference annually. It is attended by dozens of army chiefs from NATO countries, other states that have close security ties with the Americans and countries participating in the international coalition against the Islamic State.
This year, Israel received an invitation.
Aoun had arrived in Washington for the conference and had already met with Dunford, his American counterpart. However, shortly before the opening session, it emerged that he had decided not to attend the conference at the last moment.
The United States has tightened its relationship with Lebanon over the past decade, providing military and intelligence assistance worth several billion dollars following the Second Lebanon War in 2006. The American aid was meant to stabilize the regime in Beirut by strengthening the army and helping it defend itself from terrorist threats. Israel criticized the United States, asserting that some of the assistance could end up in the hands of Hezbollah.
Tensions between Israel and Lebanon have increased recently. Israel claims that the Lebanese army has been collaborating with Hezbollah and allowing the organization to maintain a presence, mainly in civilian clothes, close to the border with Israel. Hezbollah forces stood shoulder to shoulder with Lebanese army soldiers in fighting against Islamic State militants close to the border with Syria last summer. By the end of the joint operation, most members of the radical Sunni organization were driven from the border.