One of the Iranian ships as it approached the USS New Orleans when Centcom Commander Gen. Joseph Votel was aboard

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Five armed Iranian craft were involved

The incident took place in the Arabian Gulf

CNN —  

The four-star commander of the U.S. Central Command got an unexpected, up close and personal look Monday at the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps Navy when a U.S. Navy warship he was on was approached by five armed Iranian craft in the Arabian Gulf.

Gen. Joseph Votel was on board the USS New Orleans on a southbound transit in the Strait of Hormuz when the Iranian ships came within about 500 yards of the U.S. ship, according to U.S. defense officials.

A U.S. defense official said there were two separate encounters with the Iranian boats. The first was with a Houdong class patrol boat and the second with four smaller Iranian vessels. There was at least one bridge-to-bridge communication between the Americans and Iranians, the official said.

The encounters were deemed safe by the U.S., one defense official said, noting that Iranians often shadow U.S. Navy ships in the Gulf.

But Votel warned that such incidents pose a risk.

“As you’ve seen in a relatively compressed space here, there is great opportunity for miscalculations,” Votel told reporters on the bridge of the USS New Orleans, according to Reuters.

“We don’t always have a lot of time to deal with those interactions. I think what we’ve probably learned here today is that it’s measured in minutes,” Votel added.

There was no indication the Iranians knew Votel was on board.

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There have been at least six close calls this year between U.S. and Russian planes and ships. Those episodes have taken place all over the world, from the Pacific Ocean and Mediterranean to the Baltic and Black Seas.

Many experts believe they are a show of force by Russian President Vladimir Putin and, unlike the incident with Votel, have been deemed by the U.S. to be risky and dangerous.

In the most recent incident a couple of weeks ago, a Russian ship came within 150 yards of a U.S. Navy vessel, the USS San Jacinto, that was sailing in the eastern Mediterranean. The U.S. Navy described the maneuver in a statement as unsafe, “erratic” and “aggressive.”