The D Brief: Iran’s president dies; ICC warrant for Bibi, Hamas leaders; Global spending, up; A warship’s historic battle record; And a bit more.

Developing: Iran's President Ebrahim Raisi died in a helicopter crash Sunday in a mountainous region northwest of the country, near the border with Azerbaijan. 

Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian was also onboard. Both of their bodies were recovered from the wreckage on Monday, state-run Tasnim reported. The mountains were reportedly thick with fog at the time of the incident; and so far, there has been no evidence of foul play. 

A public funeral is planned for Tuesday in the northwestern city of Tabriz. Afterward, a larger service is planned in the capital of Tehran, the New York Times reports. 

Next: Vice President Mohammad Mokhber will now serve as acting president, and diplomat Ali Bagheri Kani will be interim foreign minister, CNN reports. Reuters has more. 

New: The International Criminal Court just requested arrest warrants for the leader of Hamas and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on charges of war crimes for the ongoing conflict in Gaza. Three Hamas leaders made the list, along with Bibi and his defense minister Yoav Gallant. 

The charges against Hamas include "extermination," "murder," rape, torture, taking hostages, "cruel treatment," and "Other inhumane acts."

Charges against Israel include "Extermination and/or murder," "Wilful killing," "Intentionally directing attacks against a civilian population," starvation, and more. Evidence for these charges concerned “interviews with survivors and eyewitnesses, authenticated video, photo and audio material, satellite imagery and statements” with Israeli officials, according to the ICC. 

“No foot soldier, no commander, no civilian leader—no one—can act with impunity,” said ICC Prosecutor Karim A.A. Khan KC. “Nothing can justify wilfully depriving human beings, including so many women and children, the basic necessities required for life,” he said. And “Nothing can justify the taking of hostages or the targeting of civilians,” he added. A three-judge panel must still approve the requests before the warrants can be issued. Read more, here

Related reading: 

Welcome to this Monday edition of The D Brief, brought to you by Ben Watson with Bradley Peniston and Patrick Tucker. Share your newsletter tips, reading recommendations, or feedback for the year ahead here. And if you’re not already subscribed, you can do that here. On this day in 1631, one of the bloodiest incidents of one of the bloodiest wars of all time occurred when troops of the Holy Roman Empire massacred about 20,000 people in the (now-German) city of Magdeburg.

The U.S.-led Ukraine Defense Contact Group is meeting Monday for the 22nd time. “Air defense will be high on our agenda today,” Pentagon chief Lloyd Austin said in his opening remarks at the virtual meeting. 

After mentioning Russia’s latest ground offensive in northern Ukraine’s Kharkiv region, Austin said, “The security assistance that we are now rushing to Ukraine will make a real difference in this fight. That includes 155-millimeter artillery rounds and ammunition for HIMARS,” he said. It also includes “air-defense capabilities and anti-armor systems, which come from a billion-dollar drawdown from our stocks after President Biden signed the national-security supplemental last month,” said Austin. 

Looking ahead, Russian leader Vladimir “Putin’s total mobilisation of his economy is simply not sustainable. And he knows it,” British military chief Grant Shapps said Monday on social media while sharing the latest British intelligence update on the war in Ukraine. That update emphasized reported labor shortages inside Russia, which are seen as something of a ticking time bomb for Putin’s long term goals. 

Six years for the Russian economy to collapse? Shapps went on to predict, “If all allies match the UK’s pledge to maintain support to Ukraine for the next 6 years we can exploit this weakness & make it impossible for the Russian economy to maintain its war effort.” 

For your ears only: We assessed the Russian economy in a recent half-hour conversation as part of a series of Defense One Radio podcast episodes released this weekend. Our three-part series reviewed defense spending forecasts for the U.S., Russia, and the Indo-Pacific region—and we kicked things off with a focus on Moscow, which is spending about 7% of its GDP on defense. The last time that happened was in the 1980s. 

“The current growth the Russian economy is experiencing is unlikely to be sustainable,” said Maria Snegovaya of the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington. Overheating signs are multiplying, she said. And “In a couple of years, this [Russian economy] may actually explode.” She goes into much greater detail, using a recent report on the Russian defense industry she co-authored last month, here

Developing: Ukraine’s military said Sunday that it “destroyed” a Russian navy minesweeper. Russian officials have not yet confirmed the strike, and Ukraine did not elaborate greatly. Commenters on the internet, however, did not hesitate to speculate about what “really” happened, as Maritime Executive recounts

Related reading: 

Ultimatum in Niamey: The U.S. military’s 1,000 troops in Niger will be gone by Sept. 15, defense officials confirmed this weekend in a joint statement with Niger’s military, whose leaders launched a coup deposing the country’s elected president last summer. 

After five days of talks in the capital city of Niamey, talks which the Pentagon says “conducted in complete transparency and with perfect mutual respect between the two parties,” the two sides formalized a “disengagement agreement to effect the withdrawal of U.S. forces” that’s expected to conclude “no later than” September 15.  

“Both delegations confirmed the guarantees of protection and security to the American forces during their withdrawal,” the joint statement says. And that’s a key consideration given the reported proximity (Financial Times) that U.S. and Russian forces are to each other at a key airbase in Niamey. 

What’s next for U.S. policy in the region? “Those conversations are ongoing,” a senior defense official told reporters Sunday. “This is a region where there's quite a lot of terrorist activity. We can list off a lot of different groups, but fundamentally they cross over in Niger,” the official said. 

“So, whether we are operating from Niger in the future or from some other place near here, we'll have a continued mission to monitor for external operations, and as much as possible, support partners that are willing to work with us to have the capability to disrupt that,” they explained.

Expert reax: Washington should foster coalitions that can offer a better value proposition than competing revisionist powers, argues J. Peter Pham, former U.S. Special Envoy for the Great Lakes and Sahel Regions of Africa, in Defense One. Pham’s piece is one of several published in conjunction with this week’s Global Security Forum in Qatar, of which more below.

Reminder: Back in March, Marine Gen. Michael Langley, the head of Africa Command, told lawmakers that Russian influence operations, which came at the expense of the United States, played a role in the coup.

From the region: The Democratic Republic of Congo says it just thwarted an attempted coup from its army. According to a government spokesman, “50 suspects, including three Americans and a naturalised British citizen have been detained,” the BBC reports. Washington’s ambassador to the country promised on social media Sunday to “cooperate with the DR Congo authorities to the fullest extent possible as they investigate these criminal acts and hold accountable any US citizen involved.” 

Taiwan’s new President Lai Ching-te begins his tenure today. He replaces Tsai Ing-wen, who held the office since 2016. The BBC sat down with her for an interview this weekend, and you can read that over here

Lai, 64, is a former doctor who served as Tsai’s vice president. In his inaugural address, he called on Chinese leaders in Beijing “cease their political and military intimidation against Taiwan, share with Taiwan the global responsibility of maintaining peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait as well as the greater region, and ensure the world is free from the fear of war.” 

Almost immediately, Chinese officials accused Lai of “inciting antagonism and confrontation across the strait,” according to the New York Times

One stateside perspective: “Taiwan shares our vision for the Indo-Pacific and the world that includes respect for democracy, transparency, and the rule of law,” said U.S. Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Md., and chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. “As we mark this important chapter in Taiwan’s rich history, I look forward to working with the Lai Administration to continue strengthening the U.S.-Taiwan relationship through expanding our economic, security, and people-to-people ties,” he said in a statement Sunday. 

Global defense spending rises: Last year saw increases in every region. We talked to four experts to suss out trends inside the overall numbers, and to ask: is this making the world more or less secure? Defense One Radio presents a three-part series:

  • Part 1: Russia (and noted above): Moscow is spending as much on its military as it did in the 1980s. How sustainable is that?
  • Part 2: Indo-Pacific: Why is the region in the middle of an arms race? And what do analysts think China is really spending on its military?
  • Part 3: The wider world: Guns-vs.-butter and the consequences of Washington's "porcupine" strategy for Taiwan's defense.

U.S. destroyer returns from Mideast missile battles. Last Oct. 19, the crew of the guided missile destroyer Carney was called upon to take the U.S. military’s first action to defend Israel: warding off a barrage of cruise missiles and drones launched by Houthi forces from Yemen. The crew downed four missiles and 15 drones over nine hours, CNN reported. In the months that followed, the destroyer’s crew shot down dozens more Houthi and Iranian missiles aimed at Israel, at U.S. and allied warships, and at merchant shipping. 

On Sunday, the 28-year-old Carney returned to its homeport of Mayport, Fla., where its welcoming party included Navy Secretary Carlos Del Toro and Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Lisa Franchetti. "Called to action on the very first day that you entered the U.S. 5th Fleet, you conducted 51 engagements in 6 months. The last time our Navy directly engaged the enemy to the degree that you have was way back in World War II, and it was the USS Hugh Hadley (DD-774), with her engagement record of 23," Franchetti said, according to a Navy press release.

And lastly: Today is the opening day of the sixth edition of the Global Security Forum, the Soufan Center’s annual conference in Doha, Qatar. You can watch the livestream here, or catch up on sessions after they’re posted to the conference’s website. Defense One, a media partner of the conference, is publishing commentaries by various conference participants. 

Live so far: Peter Pham’s piece on Africa discussed above, plus: