AN Israeli minister has said that the country will not tolerate an Iranian military foothold on its doorstep after devastating Israeli air attacks on key Iranian sites in Syria.

The wave of airstrikes came after Israel intercepted an Iranian drone infiltrating its airspace, and an Israeli F-16 was downed upon its return from Syria on Saturday.

It was Israel’s most serious engagement in neighbouring Syria since fighting there began in 2011 and the strongest air assault on the country in decades.

Intelligence Minister, Yisrael Katz, said it will take the Iranians time to “digest, understand and ask how Israel knew how to hit those sites”.

The Israeli military said it hit four Iranian positions and eight Syrian sites, causing significant damage and destroying the Syrian military’s main command and control bunker.

Israeli jets came under heavy Syrian anti-aircraft fire and the pilots of one of the F-16s had to eject as the plane crashed in northern Israel. One pilot was seriously wounded and the other lightly.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the airstrikes killed at least six Syrian troops and allied militiamen.

Though Israel has largely stayed out of the Syrian conflict, it has struck weapons convoys destined for Hezbollah dozens of times since 2012 and previously shot down several drones that tried to infiltrate its territory from Syria.

The capture of an Iranian drone and the direct targeting of Iranian sites, however, marks a dramatic escalation.

Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, has held several consultations with Russian president Vladimir Putin, who backs Assad’s government and maintains a large military presence in Syria.

The US backed Israel and expressed deep concern over recent violence.

Heather Nauert, a State Department spokeswoman, said the US “strongly supports Israel’s sovereign right to defend itself”.

She added:“The US continues to push back on the totality of Iran’s malign activities in the region and calls for an end to Iranian behaviour that threatens peace and stability.”