There are reports that Syrian Kurdish forces are attacking Raqqa, the capital of the Islamic State. This was expected. What was not expected are reports that Syrian government forces are preparing to attack the city as well.

Reports from the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and Al-Masdar News said the Syrian army has crossed into Raqqa province and is garrisoned roughly 50 miles from the city. But according to an unconfirmed report by Lebanese Al Mayadeen TV, the army has actually reached the city itself.

The assaults, nearly simultaneous, cannot be coincidence. The Syrian government and the Kurds are either cooperating to defeat IS or are competing to see who can defeat it first. Since the government of Bashar Assad would surely know about a Kurdish offensive, and since a competition to retake Raqqa would be dangerous for all parties, cooperation is the likely explanation.


Members of the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces stand in the village of Hazima on the northern outskirts of the Islamic State’s Syrian bastion of Raqa on June 6, 2017. DELIL SOULEIMAN/AFP/Getty Images

What’s particularly significant is the patronage of the groups involved. Assad is a client of Russia. The Kurds are a client of the United States. The Russians and Americans have not been all that cooperative in Syria, and indeed a few hours ago this kind of joint mission would have been nearly unthinkable. If they are in fact in this together, it would indicate a new understanding between Moscow and Washington.

That this offensive comes a day after Saudi Arabia’s diplomatic row with Qatar – Riyadh led a six-nation effort to cut ties with the government in Doha for its alleged support of terrorism – is startling. If it’s true that the Syrian government and the Kurds are cooperating, then it will be the second indication in two days that a realignment of the Middle East is underway.

The offensive is in its early stages, of course, and any cooperation that may have existed at the outset could dissolve at a moment’s notice. But right now, it’s important. Once we know more, so will our readers.