As well as attempting to collapse the tunnel network, the Israeli Air Force may also be trying to destroy aboveground structures, from which Hamas snipers could ambush advancing Israeli columns, said Relik Shafir, a retired Israeli Air Force general.
“Let’s say you’re a foot soldier and you want to get to a strategic point,” Mr. Shafir said. “You don’t want to be flanked by units shooting at you at close range, either with small-arms fire or short range missiles. And so you need a kind of corridor so that you can see where you’re going.”
To achieve that, the Air Force needs to “demolish the buildings on the way, flatten them in such a manner that they can’t be used for guerrilla warfare,” Mr. Shafir said.
To lessen the likelihood of civilian casualties, Israel has warned an estimated 1.1 million residents of northern Gaza to head south, away from the focus of both its air campaign and its expected ground invasion.
In a control room in southern Israel, a group of Arabic-speaking Israeli soldiers regularly telephone community leaders in northern Gaza to push them to encourage their neighbors to flee. The soldiers also harvest phone data to monitor how many people are leaving particular neighborhoods — and they say that this data informs the military’s decision about where and when to strike.
But military officials also said that they have scaled back their use of so-called warning strikes — smaller munitions that shake a building without causing catastrophic damage, giving its occupants advance warning of a larger strike in the near future.
The outcome is an aerial bombardment that exceeds even the most intense month of strikes by a U.S.-led military coalition on ISIS-held Mosul in Iraq, according to Airwars. In March 2017, the coalition fighting ISIS fired roughly 5,000 munitions, at least 2,000 fewer than Israel has fired in less than three weeks.
Emily Tripp, the director of Airwars, said: “It is on a scale that definitely outpaces the intensity of any conflict that we’ve monitored since 2014,” the year that the group was founded.
Iyad Abuheweila contributed reporting from Cairo and Johnatan Reiss from Jerusalem.