Key point: A full-on invasion and occupation would be unwise, but a lot of damage could be done.
One of the greatest truisms of life is that land wars in Asia are futile. The continent’s vastness allows defenders to trade space for time, extending the logistical lifelines of invaders to the breaking point. This argument holds for Iran, which at a population of one quarter that of the United States and the size of the West Coast is too large for even the largest of modern armies to occupy. But what about an amphibious raid against select targets on Iran’s coastline? Military action against the Islamic Republic is by no means imminent or even on the horizon, but it’s important for the public to understand the tools the Pentagon—and the White House—believe they have in their toolboxes. As The National Interest noted last week, Iran has a sprawling coastline. At 1,550 miles, Iran’s southern coastline is longer than that of California, Oregon and Washington combined. While such a long sea border is useful for projecting power into the narrow Persian Gulf, it is also a double-edged sword. The downside is that Iran has 1,550 miles of coastline it must defend from a highly capable amphibious force such as the U.S. Marine Corps.
The Marine Corps trains for a broad spectrum of operations, from pilot and aircraft personnel recovery to full-scale amphibious and airmobile assaults. One type of operation the service specializes in is the amphibious raid: using a small landing force to capture an objective, occupy it for a short period for a specific purpose, and then evacuate back to the sea.
If tensions with Iran continue to heat up, one option would be to stage an amphibious raid against a land or sea-based Iranian military facility. Iran has a large number of military facilities along its coastline belonging both to the Iranian Navy and the naval arm of the Revolutionary Guards. The Navy typically operates east of the Strait of Hormuz, while the Revolutionary Guards operate west of the Strait and generally across the Persian Gulf. The Iranian Navy operates larger, more capable ships, while the Revolutionary Guards Naval Forces tend to operate smaller watercraft, along the lines of civilian speed boats armed with heavy infantry weapons.