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The Real Threat to America Iran May Close the Strait of Hormuz

对美国的真正威胁是伊朗可能会封锁霍尔木兹海峡

The risk of miscalculation is now significantly higher.

误判的风险现在明显更高了。



President of Iran Hassan Rouhani threatened to close the Strait of Hormuz in response to potential sanctions that could be levied upon Iranian oil exports, threats which were echoed by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). President Donald Trump has given countries until November 4, 2018, to stop importing petroleum from Iran. This wide-scale ban is part of a new campaign of confrontation and pressure against the Islamic Republic. This demand comes on the heels of the U.S. departure from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), also known as the Iran nuclear deal, which was signed in 2015.

伊朗总统哈桑·鲁哈尼威胁说要封锁霍尔木兹海峡,以应对可能对伊朗石油出口实施的制裁,这一威胁得到了伊斯兰革命卫队的回应。唐纳德·特朗普总统已经要求各国在2018年11月4日前停止从伊朗进口石油。这一大规模禁令是针对伊朗伊斯兰共和国的新的对抗政策和施压活动的一部分。这一要求是在美国退出2015年签署的《联合全面行动计划》(JCPOA也就是伊核协议)之后提出的。

During negotiations, the JCPOA was marketed as the only option for curtailing Iran’s nuclear program short of war. Supporters of the deal routinely cited an increased risk of war in their arguments against exiting the deal and Rouhani’s statement, on the surface, appears to confirm such concerns. But how seriously should these threats be taken?

在当时协商谈判期间,伊核协议被宣传称是除战争手段之外削减伊朗核计划的唯一选择。该协议的支持者在反对美国退出该协议时,常被拿来说事的论据是称会增加引发的战争风险,表面上,鲁哈尼的声明似乎证实了这种担忧。但是,这些威胁应该受到怎样的重视呢?

We’ve Been Here Before

我们之前来过这里



Apart from the events that took place from 1987–88, none of these incidents resulted in open warfare. This is nothing short of remarkable, given the unrelenting level of hostility exhibited on both sides since the November 4, 1979, seizure of the U.S. embassy in Tehran. While the lack of actual fighting can be attributed to restraint and professional crisis management skills on the part of the United States, it can also be attributed to the fact that Iranian behavior and rhetoric regarding the Strait primarily serves as a means of crisis-management (albeit a dangerous one) and a political purpose.

除了1987年至1988年发生的事件,这些事件都没有导致公开的战争。这一点也毫不奇怪,鉴于自1979年11月4日美国驻德黑兰大使馆被查封以来,双方表现出的敌意就不绝于耳。虽然并未诉诸实际的军事冲突,可以归因于美国方面的克制和专业的危机管理能力,但事实上也可以归因于伊朗在海峡问题上的行为和言辞,他们主要是将其视作危机管理的手段(尽管是危险的),并以实现其政治目的。

Threatening Closure Is More Useful than Executing One

威胁封锁海峡比实际执行封锁更有效

Closing the Strait of Hormuz has a regressive impact on Iran’s interests. As John Allen Gay and Geoffrey Kemp explain in War With Iran: Political, Military, and Economic Consequences :

封锁霍尔木兹海峡对伊朗的利益也具有负面的影响。正如约翰·艾伦·盖伊和杰弗里·坎普在对与伊朗的战争中所作的分析解释的那样:政治、军事和经济后果:

Eighty-five percent of Iran’s imports come through the strait, and the oil exports so crucial to the Iranian government’s solvency mostly flow out of it. Iran would be cutting off its own lifeline if it closed the strait, and it would have to live on its already dwindling currency reserves. Iran would also be inviting attacks on its own oil facilities by vengeful neighbors, and it would isolate itself internationally.

伊朗85 %的进口要经过霍尔木兹海峡,对伊朗政府偿付能力至关重要的石油出口中的大部分也是从该海峡流出的。如果伊朗封锁该海峡,那么也将切断其自身的生命线,也就不得不依靠已经在减少的外汇储备生存下去了。伊朗也将招致报复心强的邻国对其石油设施进行攻击,并将在国际上孤立自己。

So, in contemplating any Strait of Hormuz closure scenario, it should immediately be noted such a move by Iran amounts to one of desperation, employed only in a situation in which Tehran sees no other way out of its predicament. Therefore, a Strait closure is unlikely, the United States is well-aware of this, and the Iranian leadership probably realizes Washington can call its bluff any time. So why does Tehran continue to make such threats?

因此,在考虑对霍尔木兹海峡实施任何封锁的情景时,应该立即注意到伊朗的这种举动相当于绝望,只有在德黑兰看不到其他出路的情况下才会使用。这样,封锁该海峡就是不可能的,美国对此非常清楚,伊朗领导层可能意识到华盛顿随时都可以虚张声势。那么德黑兰为什么要继续制造这种威胁呢?

By threatening to close the vital waterway lixing the oil-rich Persian Gulf with the world, through which approximately a third of the world’s petroleum is ferried, Iran stokes fears of war and economic crisis. This not only raises gas prices in anticipation of supply disruptions, but it also influences world opinion towards the direction of de-escalation, which would pressure the United States to back away from its own red lines. Given the number of countries that rely on Middle Eastern oil, including that of Iran, Tehran can craft a damning narrative that shows that the United States is generating a crisis to the world’s detriment.

这条连接石油丰富的波斯湾和世界的重要水道,运送了世界上大约三分之一的石油,伊朗威胁封锁这条水道,是为了煽动起对战争和经济危机的担忧。这不仅会在预期中断石油供应的情况下造成天然气价格的攀高,还会影响世界舆论对降低冲突范围或强度的走向的看法,这将迫使美国远离自己的红线。考虑到依赖中东,包括伊朗的石油的国家数量,德黑兰可以编造出一个可怕的故事,以说明美国正在制造一场危机,危害世界。

These narratives work well at home, too. Like most autocracies, the Islamic regime regularly employs crises to establish political dominance and domestic order. The sights and sounds of Iranian naval forces challenging and harassing U.S. warships serves powerfully as propaganda, encouraging unity against the “Great Satan” that is America.

这些招数在国内还是挺有效的。就像大多数政权一样,伊斯兰政权经常利用危机来建立政治统治和维护国内秩序。伊朗海军挑战和骚扰美国军舰的景象和声音起到了有力的宣传作用,激励起民众团结起来,反对美国这个“大撒旦”。

And while the United States has the capability to prevent a closure or re-open the Strait, the physical and political costs of such an undertaking are considerable. Assuming Iran would attempt a closure only when it feels it has no other recourse, it would then have little to lose from doing so, while the United States and the world would bear costs not easily recouped nor as readily borne in comparison.

虽然美国有能力阻止封锁海峡或重新开放,但这样做的实质成本和政治代价都是相当大的。假设伊朗只有在感到实在没有其他可追偿损失的情况下才会封锁海峡,那么这样做伊朗是不会有什么损失,而美国和全世界将要承担这不容易收回的损失,相比之下也就无法轻易承受这样的成本了。

What If Iran Were to Attempt a Strait Closure?

如果伊朗试图封锁海峡怎么办?



For example, Gay and Kemp estimated the cost of a Hormuz mine-clearance operation to be $230.1 million. Even something as routine as maintaining two carrier strike groups (CSGs) on-station for a week was estimated to be $106 million. In the event of a more serious military confrontation, a 2017 RAND report calls for the deployment of, among other things, twenty-one Air Force fighter squadrons and four CSGs. It is more difficult to estimate human casualties, but these numbers make clear there are prohibitive up-front costs to a crisis in the Strait of Hormuz, whether a full-blown shooting war erupts or not.

例如,盖伊和坎普估计霍尔木兹排雷行动的费用为2.301亿美元。甚至像维持两个航母打击群( CSGs )战备状态一周时间,这样例行公事的费用估计也要达到1.06亿美元。兰德公司2017年的一份报告呼吁,如果发生更严重的军事对抗,将要部署21个空军战斗机中队和4个航母打击群。要估计人员伤亡就更加困难了,但是这些数字清楚地表明,无论全面的军事对抗战争是否爆发,霍尔木兹海峡的危机都需要高昂的费用支持。

However, for reasons outlined earlier, the likelihood of a surprise closure is remarkably low. The United States and its allies are well-aware of such a possibility and have been, for decades, well-prepared for the scenario. The military superiority of the United States and its allies all but ensures an overwhelming defeat for the Ayatollah’s warriors. Most importantly, a surprise closure of the Strait acts to Iran’s detriment, unless the strategic environment is such that Tehran feels its back is against the wall and has little to lose from such desperation. Threatening closure is more useful than attempting one, thus, absent exigent circumstances, Iran’s leadership will always telegraph its intentions, if only to avoid a situation where they must choose between backing down and losing face or following through and hazard overwhelming defeat.

然而,由于前面概述的原因,突然封锁海峡的可能性非常低。美国及其盟国非常清楚这种可能性,几十年来已经为这种情况做好了充分准备。美国及其盟友的军事优势几乎确保了对伊斯兰阿亚图拉战士的压倒性胜利。最重要的是,突然封锁海峡对伊朗不利,除非战略环境使德黑兰感到已经背对墙角退无可退,在这种绝望中管不了什么损失了。威胁封锁是比试图封锁更有用的,因此,如果不是在急不可待的情况下,伊朗领导层将永远传达其意图,哪怕是只要能避免这样一种局面:他们必须在退让和丢脸之间做出选择,或者是继续前进,冒着惨败的危险。

Though risk of miscalculation remains, Iran has considerably dialed back on its hostile behavior in the Strait, while increasing its aggressive activities elsewhere. But if Tehran wants its threats to at least be taken seriously, it may need to again resort to maritime provocations against commercial shipping and the U.S. military. Iran’s de-emphasizing of the Gulf in its strategy does not appear to be something that will last much longer.

尽管误判的风险依然存在,但伊朗已经大大减少了其在海峡的敌对行为,同时增加了其在其他地方的攻击性活动。但是,如果德黑兰希望其威胁至少得到认真对待,可能需要再次对商业航运和美国军方进行海上挑衅。在伊朗战略部署中,对海湾事态的淡化处理似乎不会持续太久。

The Israeli Wild-Card

以色列的“变牌”

Some observers are predicting a cataclysmic war between the Jewish state and Hezbollah in the near future. Given Hezbollah serves as Iran’s most prominent proxy, there are concerns such a conflict will draw Tehran in as well, risking a major regional conflagration. Israel has, in fact, already clashed numerous times with Iran-backed militias in Syria in recent weeks and months, raising the likelihood of direct warfare between Jerusalem and Tehran.

一些观察家预测,在不久的将来,这个犹太国家和真主党之间将会爆发一场灾难性的战争。鉴于真主党是伊朗最突出的代理人,人们担心这样的冲突也会吸引到德黑兰的注意力,从而有可能会引发一场重大的地区冲突。事实上,近几周和几个月来,以色列已经多次与伊朗支持的叙利亚民兵发生了冲突,这增加了耶路撒冷和德黑兰之间爆发直接战争的可能性。

Although Washington does not possess a mutual-defense treaty with Jerusalem, the former would still support the latter’s war effort through the provision of armaments, logistics, intelligence support, among other products. Furthermore, the United States currently has troops deployed in Syria, Iraq, Jordan, and elsewhere throughout the region, along with the ongoing air war against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). In the event of a war between Israel and Hezbollah, potentially including Iran, it would take incredible diplomatic and military maneuvering to keep the United States directly out of the conflict.

尽管华盛顿与耶路撒冷没有共同防御条约,但前者仍将通过提供武器、后勤、情报支持以及其他资源来支持后者的战争活动。此外,美国目前在叙利亚、伊拉克、约旦和整个地区的其他地方都部署了部队,同时正在对伊拉克和黎凡特伊斯兰国发动空中打击。如果以色列和真主党(有可能还包括伊朗)发生战争,美国若想避免直接涉入到冲突中,将需要采取不可思议的外交和军事手段。

The true course of any conflict is difficult to predict, but Washington should consider the possibility Iran may attempt to distract American support for Israel by threatening to close the Strait of Hormuz. By creating it crisis on the opposite end of the Middle East, Iran is not so much banking on forcing the United States to reduce support for Israel, but to overstretch its commitments, and create political and strategic costs the American people may not be willing to bear, given the generally controversial nature of the U.S.-Israeli relationship. Once more, the importance of narratives emerges—threatening Strait closure mounts pressure on the White House to find a diplomatic solution to the conflict, due to the dread and uncertainty portending a U.S.-Iran clash would conjure.

任何冲突的真正走向都是很难预测的,但是华盛顿应该考虑到伊朗可能试图通过威胁封锁霍尔木兹海峡,以转移美国对以色列的支持。伊朗通过在中东的另一端制造危机,与其说是指望迫使美国减少对以色列的支持,还不如说是希望美国过度履行其对以色列的承诺,进而造成美国人民不愿承担的政治和战略成本,因为美国和以色列的关系具有普遍的争议性。这样故事的重要性就再次显现——威胁封锁海峡给白宫带来压力,就迫使美军寻求外交解决冲突的方案,因为预期暴发美伊冲突的恐惧和不确定性会变得更加复杂。

Once again, however, blockading Hormuz proves an ineffective move if the United States is willing to counter Iran’s provocations. This means Iran is more likely to respond with low-intensity, deniable warfare by utilizing cyberwarfare its deep roster of militias and terrorist groups. Be it Lebanon’s Hezbollah, Gaza’s Hamas, or Iraq’s Popular Mobilization Forces, the Ayatollah is likely to call upon these players long before seriously considering closing the Strait of Hormuz. Hezbollah, in particular, is among the most well-connected of terrorist groups in the world, possessing lixs with Central and South American drug cartels. A worst-case scenario would involve Hezbollah exploiting these connections to carry out terrorism on American soil. At the very least, it can be expected that Iranian-backed militias like the PMU can be used to attack U.S. and coalition forces in Iraq and Syria as the anti-ISIL campaign continues. This would force the United States/coalition to contemplate escalating their involvement in the multiple civil wars in the region, or, to their obvious detriment, refrain from retaliation.

然而,如果美国愿意反击伊朗的挑衅,封锁霍尔木兹将被再次证明是无效的。这意味着伊朗更有可能通过利用其庞大的民兵和恐怖组织集团,以进行低强度、可拒止的战争来应对。无论是黎巴嫩的真主党、加沙的哈马斯,还是伊拉克的人民动员组织,阿亚图拉很可能在认真考虑封锁霍尔木兹海峡之前就召唤这些追随者。特别是真主党,是世界上外部联系最密切的恐怖组织之一,与中美洲和南美洲贩毒集团有联系。最坏的情况是真主党利用这些联系在美国领土上实施恐怖主义。最起码,随着反伊斯兰国运动的继续,可以预计像人民动员组织这样的伊朗支持的民兵,会被用来袭击美国和驻伊拉克和叙利亚的联军部队。这将迫使美国/联盟考虑加大介入该地区的多场内战力度,或者避免报复,这显然不利于他们。

Conclusion

结论

Barring further developments, this latest threat from Tehran to close the Strait of Hormuz will likely pass without incident. It will, however, create the potential for close encounters between U.S. and Iranian naval forces in the region, leaving open a window of heightened risk of miscalculation. Furthermore, the likelihood of a war between Hezbollah and possibly Iran continues to grow by the day. If or when that war happens, the United States and the coalition will find it difficult to stay out of the line of fire.

除非事态进一步发展,德黑兰最近封锁霍尔木兹海峡的威胁很可能会无意外地发生。然而,这将为美国和伊朗海军在该地区的近距离遭遇创造潜在的可能性,从而打开一个增加误判风险的窗口。此外,与真主党,也可能是与伊朗之间发生战争的可能性日益增大。如果,或者当战争发生时,美国和联盟将会发现自己是很难置身于战火之外的。