BERLIN (Reuters) - German officials rejected any comparison between Hamas and Israel after the International Criminal Court's prosecutor asked judges to issue arrest warrants for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the Palestinian militant group's leaders.

The request posed a quandary for Germany, a member of the ICC with a long-standing policy of standing behind a "rules-based international order", because of its support for Israel that is grounded in history.

If the court does issue the warrants, Germany, like other ICC members, would have a legal obligation to arrest Netanyahu if he were to enter the country, though members have defied ICC warrants in the past.

"The accusations of the chief prosecutor are serious and must be substantiated," a German government spokesperson said on Tuesday.

Germany assumes that Israel's democratic system and rule of law, with its strong, independent judiciary, would be taken into account by judges in deciding whether to issue the warrants, the spokesperson said.

"We're talking about applying for arrest warrants and not about issuing them," Germany's defence minister Boris Pistorius said on Tuesday at a press conference with his Lithuanian counterpart in Palanga.

"I think it's obvious that that would put us in a real dilemma [...] We are waiting for the decision," he said.

Successive German governments have considered near-unconditional support for Israel as a matter of "Staatsraeson", or national interest, in the wake of Germany's murder of millions of Jews during the Nazi Holocaust.

Germany has faced censure, especially from its millions-strong Muslim community, over its reluctance to criticise Israel's incursion into Gaza, following Hamas' unprecedented attack in Israel on Oct. 7, stating only that Israel has a "right to defend itself," while reminding Israel of the need to adhere to human rights laws.

An arrest warrant for Israeli government officials could pit Germany's commitment to the rule of law against its national interest.

"German 'Staatsraeson' (national interest) is now being put to the test - no ifs or buts," wrote Israeli Ambassador Ron Prosor on social media.

"The public statement that Israel has the right to self-defense loses credibility if our hands are tied as soon as we defend ourselves."

(Reporting by Thomas Escritt and Sabine Siebold, writing by Emma-Victoria Farr, Editing by Bernadette Baum)

By Thomas Escritt