Late Wednesday night, the Associated Press published a story noting that the Obama administration "is poised to announce the sale of nearly $30 billion worth of F-15 fighter jets to Saudi Arabia." That's when most people first found out about the deal. Most.
See, as Business Insider points out, the information may have actually been leaked online a few hours earlier when the Air Force published a picture announcing the deal, only to remove it shortly after.
Here's the picture:
Defense blogger Stephen Trimble first noticed it on an Air Force website and wrote about it. But shortly after his post, the picture and the web page disappeared. He explains on his website The Dew Line:
A US Air Force web site appears to confirm the blockbuster Boeing F-15SA sale to Saudi Arabia. [UPDATE: Within two hours of my blog post, the USAF removed the image from the web site.]
The picture shown above was released to a USAF web site at 3:31pm on 28 December. That means the image appeared several hours before the Associated Press reported the deal would be announced soon by the Obama Administration. So far, the White House has not formally announced the order has been signed by the Saudi government.
So far, the deal hasn't been officially confirmed. It would send 84 new fighter jets and upgrades for 70 more, for a total of $29.4 billion, according to the AP's sources.
About a year ago, the administration got the go-ahead from Congress for a 10-year, $60 billion arms deal with Saudi Arabia that included F-15s, helicopters and a broad array of missiles, bombs and delivery systems, as well as radar warning systems and night-vision goggles.
The plan initially raised concerns from pro-Israeli lawmakers, but U.S. officials reassured Congress that Israel's military edge would not be undercut by the sale. Additionally, there is now broad agreement among Israel, the Gulf Arab states and the West that Iran poses a significant and unpredictable threat.
Saudi Arabia and Iran are bitter regional rivals. Tensions between them were further stoked earlier this year after the U.S. accused Iran of plotting to assassinate the Saudi ambassador to the U.S. in Washington.
Saudi Arabia is already the most militarily advanced of the Arab Gulf states, one of the richest countries in the world, and central to American policy in the Middle East. It is also vital to U.S. energy security, with Saudi Arabia ranking as the third-largest source of U.S. oil imports.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.