Self-serving opinionated descriptions by external analysts of Islamic Iran’s low-key approach in the Caucasus as weakness are based on faulty understanding of the ground realities.
This is contrasted with Iran’s active role in the Levant and the Arabian Peninsula.
Western policy centers assume that since Iran had historically maintained an active presence in the Caucasus, its current low-key role is unnatural.
They fail to realize that as an Islamic Republic, Iran operates on different principles and policy objectives.
These take the reality of circumstances into consideration.
Currently the primary foreign policy threats to Islamic Iran emanate from NATO regimes and regions under Western political and security influence.
The Caucasus region, which includes the independent states of Azerbaijan, Georgia and Armenia, and the North Caucasus republics that are part of the Russian Federation, are outside NATO’s sway and falls within Russia’s sphere of influence.
The regimes in Azerbaijan, Georgia and Armenia are under Moscow’s influence and Russia has military presence in all three.
Additionally, Russia has strong societal and cultural bonds with the Caucasus dating to the Soviet era and the presence in Russia of large numbers of migrant workers from the Caucasus.
Thus, Tehran’s adversaries cannot establish strategic presence in the region without annoying Moscow and triggering a Russian response.
Also, Azerbaijan, Caucasus’ largest country, has the second largest Shia majority population, in percentage terms, after Iran.
Its religious segment offers Iran a societal buffer against wider destabilization instigated by NATO regimes and their local proxies through Azerbaijan.
Currently, the threat to Iran from the Caucasus is minimal.
Thus, using its energy judiciously, Iran does not need to be so actively involved in the region.
Iran also correctly calculates that its active involvement in the Caucasus will provide the Western regimes an opportunity to undermine Tehran’s relations with Moscow.
This is not in Iran’s interest.
While Iran chooses to emphasize soft-power and diplomacy, Western interference in the Caucasus might force Tehran to change its approach.
This turn of events will depend primarily on what methods NATO regimes choose for their confrontation with Russia.
If Western powers use the Caucasus as a leverage to destabilize Russia’s southern borders, Iran’s presence is likely to increase.
This, however, is an unlikely scenario as Western powers have limited political and military capabilities to establish presence in the Caucasus and use it to destabilize Islamic Iran.
Even though Israel and some NATO powers have political and intelligence presence in Azerbaijan, the Aliyev regime as well as ruling establishments in Georgia and Armenia will not allow themselves to become platforms for Iran’s destabilization or cross Russia’s geopolitical redlines.
If the regimes in Azerbaijan, Georgia and Armenia become points of distress for Iran, Tehran has significant social and political leverages to push back.
Therefore, these regimes will not cross Iran’s redlines. These are also Russia’s redlines.
Destabilization of the Caucasus will create ethnic conflicts and the emergence of takfiri- minded separatist groups on Russia’s southern borders.
It will also create an opening for Islamic Iran to increase its role in the Caucasus.
Out of political expediency, NATO regimes will desist from a policy that is likely to increase Iran’s role in another geopolitically vital region.
In the short to medium term, Iran will, therefore, continue to lay emphasis on diplomacy unless the NATO regimes succeed in turning the Caucasus region into a political and military platform and use it to destabilize Iran.