Standing atop a windswept bunker in this black volcanic plateau littered with rusted machine guns and grotesquely misshapen tanks, and Israeli reserve Army officer squints at the startlingly close view of the ruined Syrian city of Kuneitra and offers what he says is a national consensus on a life-and-death issue.
"These hills are the eyes of Israel on Syria. If we don't have these hills, we don't have eyes. They are our topographical advantage, and we won't give them up," he says.
The setting in the Israeli occupied Golan Heights of Syria is appropriate for stating such and immutable position. Enormous boulders straining behind steel netting form a protective mound over a deep labyrinth of tunnels where soldiers can sit out a barrage of direct hits by the heaviest artillery.
Mounted machine guns poke out menacingly from the narrow slits of the redoubt, covering a hillside strewn with tank obstacles, land mines and a glittering carpet of razor-sharp concertina wire. Armored personnel carriers squat inside the seemingly impregnable fortress, poised to race out and confront a challenge from the east.
But intractable declarations about the 500 square miles of Syrian land that Israel seized in the Golan Heights in the Six-Day War in 1967 are coming from places other than Hill 109 and the dozens of other bunkers built into the volcanoes that dot the landscape here.
Even as controversy continues to simmer abroad about parliament's proclamation that Jerusalem is Israel's indivisible capital, a wide range of political groups is joining forces to press for annexation of the Golan Heights as part of Israel.
If parliament does annex the Golan -- and there is growing evidence that it will -- the move is certain to ignite new international outrage that would make the controversy about Jerusalem as the "perpetual capital" pale by comparison.
The United States has already vigorously objected to the concept of annexation, with U.S. Ambassador Samuel Lewis reportedly warning Prime Minister Menachem Begin that it would be contrary to international agreements barring acquisition of territory by war.
The Carter administration also has warned Begin that annexation would seriously undermine the basis of the entire Middle East peace process -- U.N. Security Council resolution 242, which calls on Israel to withdraw from territories it occupied in 1967.
Moreover, it could anger the Syrians, who have abided by the 1974 disengagement agreement thus far, to the point of seeking Soviet support to turn the Golan Heights back into an arena to fight against Israel.
Despite these ominous prospects, a move to annex the Golan Heights has gained momentum in the Israeli parliament, where two bills are being prepared by members of Begin's ruling Likud faction, the National Religious Party and the ultranationalist Tehyia Party. One of them is sponsored by Geula Cohen, whose success with the Jerusalem bill was responsible for driving the last 14 foreign embassies out of Jerusalem.
Cohen says she is confident of an early vote on the Golan, and that the repercusssions will be less than expected.
"America won't take any measures against us. Rather, they are obligated to support and strengthen us. They're afraid of the Russians, as is Egypt, and neither one of them is going to do anything." Cohen said.
While Begin has taken no public stand on the bill, he is said to be dismayed by being confronted by the same dilemma he faced in the Jerusalem bill debate: approving the measure would invite serious international complications, but opposing it would suggest that Israel is not steadfast in its determination to maintain its strategic depth in the occupied territories.
At the same time, Begin appears determined that should he be defeated in next year's election, the Labor Party should be left a legacy of irreversible decisions that will assure the security of Israel, such as the Jerusalem bill, a transfer of the prime minister's office to East Jerusalem and some action on the Golan Heights.
Moreover, observers note, the interregnum in the U.S. presidency offers Israel the most opportune time to annex the Golan Heights with the least American reaction.
From time to time, Begin publicly warns of the danger of Syria launching an attack on Israel, an alarm that some annexation critics interpret as a signal that the prime minister intends to make the heights part of Israel soon.
The language of the proposed bills is not known yet, but sources said one version never mentions the word annexation, but instead proposes to approve the "applicability of Israeli law to the Golan Heights," a euphemism for making the land part of Israel.
The issue is an emotionally charged one that has ignited passions through-out Israel and has galvanized the 6,000 Jewish settlers in the Golan Heights, who last year obtained 760,000 signatures on a pro-annexation petition. The population of Israel is 3.8 million.
In the 120-member parliament, 71 signed the petition, forming what has become known as the "Golan lobby," and the most reliable public opinion polls show that 70 percent of Israelis favor annexation.
Unlike in the West Bank, the case for annexation has few biblical justifications, although some Israelis point out that the original 12 tribes of Israel settled there. The annexation argument instead rests on painful memories of the years of Syrian shelling of farms and kibbutzim in the Galilee before the Israelis drove the Syrians out of the heights in 1967.
The heights offer a commanding view of the Israeli countryside below, with cliffs seeming to hang over Tiberias like a stageside theater box. It was from this spectacular vantage that the Syrian Army was able to lob artillery and mortar shells onto the Israelis with devastating results that have not been forgotten.
"Go to sleep my child, this time the lights on the Golan Heights are ours," goes the refrain from a postwar Israeli ballad.
Moreover, the bitter fighting in 1967, and again when Syria tried and failed to recapture the Golan in 1973, has left its mark. There are more than a hundred monuments in the Golan marking places where Israeli soldiers died in combat.
The Camp David peace treaty and the dismantling of Jewish settlements in the Sinai Peninsula has also convinced many Golan settlers that the time to act is now.
Among them are Gershon Joel, 30, an Australian immigrant at the Mevo Hamma settlement, who said, "You won't find anybody up here against annexation.
"If we give Mevo Hamma back, all those people down there might as well pack their suitcases too, because the shells will start falling on them again," Joel said, pointing to Tiberias on the other side of the lake.
"So, it causes diplomatic problems. When has Israel not had diplomatic problems. We would be in the sea today if we listened to the rest of the world," he added.
Mevo Hamma, like most Golan settlements, is a Labor Party kibbutz, and the settlers have been applying intense pressure on the Labor alignment to push a Golan bill through. The alignment is sharply divided on the issue, but Joel said he thought those Labor legislators who did not vote for the bill would abstain, allowing Likud to pass it.
"People here are very jumpy about what happened to the Sinai settlements. The Golan bill should have come up a long time ago, when it wouldn't have caused a ripple," Joel said.
About 25 miles north of Mevo Hamma, in the Druze town of Masade, Moshin Salim Abu Saleh, a mukhtar in Syrain times and now an Israeli-paid head of the local council, also argued for annexation -- although perhaps for more personal reasons.
Speaking through an interpreter in fluent Hebrew, Abu Saleh conceded that he would get "at minimum, jail" if the Syrian reoccupied the Golan. But he added, "I would stay here. The Druze never leave their villages."
Clustered in four towns, the 12,500 Druze of the Golan are enjoying the economic boom of the region, which includes bumper crops of cotton, wheat and vegetables, flourishing livestock and a ski resort on Mount Hermon. For that reason alone, virtually all the Druze are anxious to remain under Israeli control.
But they are also afraid of what would happen if the Syrians returned, and the occasional expressions of Syrian nationalism heard among the Druze generally are regarded as alibis to protect relatives remaining in Syria.
"Anybody bitten by the snake is afraid of the rope," said one Druze elder, noting that virtually all Druze youth serve in the Israeli Army, and many of them with the border police units that maintain order in the West Bank.
When there was a move to offer the Druze Israeli citizenship, only about 10 percent applied. Abu Saleh attributed this to confusion over the offer and uncertainty over the legal status of the Golan Heights.
"If the Golan Heights is annexed, all the Druze will ask for citizenship, he predicted. "We have improved our life 800 percent and we prefer to be here.