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WASHINGTON – Turkey’s decision to side with Saudi Arabia in the battle to oust Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has caused Ankara to tread lightly, as it sees an opening to extend its own influence in competition with Iran to become the new regional power, according to a report in Joseph Farah’s G2 Bulletin.

The results could be not only turning Syria back to a Sunni-run government but additional influence in Iraq, which has a Sunni population but is led by Iranian-backed Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.

But Ankara has had to proceed cautiously. It backed off recently when Syria shot down one of its jets that had intruded briefly into Syrian air space.

As a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan sought to engage the Western alliance to hasten the ouster of Assad. But there was no stomach in NATO to engage Syria in a military confrontation, especially after it became increasingly apparent that the jet had entered Syrian airspace without permission and was shot down over Syrian territorial waters.

The Syrian president eventually apologized for the shoot-down, but the political fallout became apparent when Erdogan decided against pursuing the NATO route. As a result, an emboldened Assad has threatened to unleash the Kurd and Alawite minorities that reside in Turkey.

Now, Turkey is talking about setting up a buffer zone inside Syria with the help of the Turkish military to accommodate Syrian refugee. But officials so far have stopped short of committing the military troops, even though Erdogan has postured by sending Turkish military forces to the border with Syria.

Turkey also is being used by the Syrian Free Army opposition to plan and launch attacks against Syrian government forces inside Syria.

In addition, Turkey is being used as a source for weapons by the opposition forces in Syria in cooperation with Saudi Arabia and Qatar. This development has prompted Assad to declare that foreign forces are attacking Syria. With that comment, he has opened the prospect of using his arsenal of chemical weapons against them.

Now Ankara is looking at what analysts believe is the larger picture of not getting bogged down in one area but looking to extend its influence as a regional power.

In doing so, however, Ankara is mindful of the prospect of Assad unleashing the Kurdish minority in northern Syria which has linked up with the Democratic Union Party. The DUP is affiliated with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK.

For their part, the Kurds in the Turkish southeast sees an opportunity to unite with the Kurds in northern Syria to make a move to set up an independent state called Kurdistan. The area also would include northern Iraq and northern Iran.

Turkey, however, doesn’t want to upset Tehran, which has issued a warning to Turkey that it could intervene if it looks like Assad will be ousted, especially if Turkey commits its military.

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