Tehran has held academics Fariba Adelkhah and Roland Marchal since June, according to TV network France 24.France on Friday condemned their detention as “intolerable.” They are just some of several academics the Islamic Republic has arrested and accused of spying as part of its decades-old strategy of using hostages to get what it wants. In December, Iran released an American scholar it had held since 2016.Western countries are at the mercy of Tehran because they don’t detain Iranian regime members in response, and prefer the veneer of treating Iran like a normal country. This enables its foreign minister to relax and smile while on trips to Europe, while detaining European and American academics. Iran does not use hostage-taking in its policies with China, Russia or India, countries that Tehran respects, knowing that hostage-taking will result in a response and not only diplomatic discussion.France said on Friday it was unhappy with the detention of the two academics. It called for them to be released “without delay,” and that Iran should show “total transparency.”According to reports in Australia, another academic, Kylie Moore-Gilbert, recently began a hunger strike. She has been held since 2018. The French academic Adelkhah who was based at Paris’s Sciences Po school has also begun a hunger strike.Iran uses the same methodology with every Western academic it detains. It accuses them of spying, which means it doesn’t have to produce any evidence, but rather cites national security. It never accuses them of a specific, provable crime because it would then need to provide witnesses and details of charges.Tehran targets academics because it views them as the soft underbelly of Western countries. It knows to take their universities seriously but also that Iran enjoys widespread sympathy among academics in the West, who generally view sanctions by the Trump administration as unacceptable. Iran lures academics to the country by pretending that it is a normal state. It knows that Western academics want to study Shi’ite Islam or Iranian foreign policy or civilization. It doesn’t turn the academics away for visas, but lures them to Tehran hoping to use them as diplomatic bargaining chips.Iran is relatively transparent in wanting either prisoner swaps or other deals with Western countries for its hostage-taking. The regime has been doing this since 1980. It believes this is one of its most effective policies in dealing with Western powers. For instance, Washington conducted a prisoner swap in December, and Australia has said that an Iranian scientist it detained would not be extradited to the US. America has released Iranians accused of serious violations, such as trying to export material for the Iranian regime. In this sense, Iran gets back its agents by detaining innocent Westerners.Iran sees France as key to its strategy to get around US sanctions. For instance, Iran’s Javad Zarif held surprise talks with France at the G7 summit in August. Iran had already detained the academics, but France didn’t punish Iran – instead, it rewarded Iran with a high-level meeting.Western countries tend to talk about “rule of law” and “academic freedom,” but in diplomatic relations, they do not adhere to these standards. They also don’t respond to hostage-taking by having hostages themselves; instead, they act as if there is no relation between the two – neither downgrading relations, nor responding. History shows that they generally know there is a direct relationship because they say that the hostage taking can be resolved diplomatically.Most Western governments don’t seem to warn their own citizens regarding travel to Iran – that they can become bargaining chips – which means that Western intelligence services don’t protect their own citizens. For instance, in the wake of the Iran nuclear deal, the fate of Americans held in Iran was not discussed – as Americans prepared tour packages to Iran. They were not provided basic information on Iran’s tendency to take hostages. On the other hand, Western diplomats often tell families of those kidnapped by Iran that any public protest will make their situation more difficult, often without any evidence.The Western governments usually don’t want domestic campaigns of public pressure because their diplomats want to be able to work well with Iran unencumbered by pressure from politicians over why the Islamic Republic can kidnap academics and not suffer any consequences. For this reason, families of the kidnapped are often told to not even mention the names of their relatives publicly, and that their government is working on getting them released.